Q. Can you give any halachic advice about dealing with Alzheimer’s disease?
A. In 1998 Professor Moshe D Tendler, a medical ethicist, the son-in-law of the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, spoke on the subject to the 9th annual International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics. He urged individuals in the early stages of the disease to give a family member a power of attorney to make their future medical and legal decisions.
Knowing what distress the disease can cause to caregivers, he said it was possible for a husband to enter into a religious contract for a gett at some future point when three experts, usually doctors and rabbis, determined that the patient is no longer competent. This would dissolve the marriage from the date at which the contract was drawn up.
Regardless of this consideration, he stressed that “Honour your father and mother” meant that a child must do all they can for an ailing parent but empowered them to put the parent into a nursing home if his/her condition became literally unbearable. The family must help financially but in the final analysis the expenses of caring for a parent must come from the parent’s estate.
Treatment must not be withheld; halachic advice must be sought in relation to “heroic” measures such as life-support systems.