Q. I read that Justice Cardozo said that “Every human being of adult years and sound mind” has the right do decide what shall be done with their own body. Does Judaism agree?
A. No. Rabbi Jacob Emden ruled that if the doctors determine that a certain course of action is essential, the patient’s view to the contrary does not prevail: “The matter does not depend on the consent of the patient, since he is not free to destroy himself” (Mor Uk’zi’a to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 328). Our life is not ours to dispose of; not only does the Torah tell us twice in the Book of D’varim to guard our life carefully but there are unambiguous halachic statements to the effect that “The body is the property of the Holy One, Blessed be He”.
Some years ago I publicly disputed a ruling by a State coroner in New South Wales that “As a matter of law, a human body belongs to the coroner” and I urged a proper piece of research into the subject, arguing that such matters dare not be decided on the run. The author of the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Joseph Karo, ruled (Bet Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 426) that a doctor who takes no action in a case where a patient withholds consent has transgressed the Biblical command, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour” (Lev. 19:16).