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Orthodox Jewish Group Sues to Stop Kin From Taking Woman Off Life Support

By James Fanelli | October 2, 2014 7:28am
 Eileen Beth Kramer, a patient on life support at Maimonides Medical Center, is at the center of a legal fight. An Orthodox Jewish group claims taking her off life support would go against her religious beliefs.
Eileen Beth Kramer, a patient on life support at Maimonides Medical Center, is at the center of a legal fight. An Orthodox Jewish group claims taking her off life support would go against her religious beliefs.
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BOROUGH PARK — The head of a Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish group that cares for people with special needs has gone to court to prevent one of his clients from being taken off life support, claiming the act goes against the woman's religious faith.

Eileen Beth Kramer, 60, is currently on life support at Maimonides Medical Center but her legal guardian, her brother, is considering removing her from a ventilator, court papers say.

Samuel Kahn, the head of the Hebrew Academy for Special Children, claims in a legal petition challenging the brother's decision that Kramer is a devout Orthodox Jewish woman — and removing her from life support is a slight against her beliefs.

"If such action were to be taken, it would constitute a violation of the very same Orthodox Jewish tradition that Ms. Kramer has lived for so long," the petition says.

"It is particularly shocking that such a decision would be made on the eve of the Jewish High Holiday Season. Just mere days prior to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days on the Jewish Calendar."

HASC has cared for Kramer in one of its group homes for the past 40 years until she recently became sick, according to the petition.

During that time, she "has been living as an Orthodox Jewish woman for many years," the petition says. She keeps a kosher diet, observes the Shabbat and celebrates and partakes in Jewish holidays and rituals, the petition says.

However, Kramer's brother, Howard Kramer, told DNAinfo New York that HASC shouldn't have a say in the decision. He also said that his sister, who has a developmental disability, wasn't religious — and neither is he or their parents.

"She doesn't have the intellectual capability [to understand religion]," Howard Kramer said. "She lived [at HASC], she followed their rules, but she couldn't have held deeply religious beliefs because of her disability. She doesn't have any concept of what religion is."

An emergency hearing was held in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday before Judge Larry Martin. The judge has issued a temporary restraining order on removing the ventilator, but he has withheld decision, according to both HASC and Howard Kramer.

Howard Kramer, who lives in Denver but has been in New York for the hearing, said that he expects a decision in a few days.

He said that his sister went into HASC's care after his mother died. His parents were non-observant Jews, he said, but his father picked HASC because he "thought she would get good care, not because of the religious affiliation of the organization."

Eileen Kramer has been at Maimonides Medical Center for nearly three weeks, according to her brother. Neither HASC nor her brother would say why she was admitted or discuss her medical condition.

Rabbi Dr. Chaim Wakslak, HASC's clinical director, told DNAinfo that his organization's mission is to provide care and religion to individuals with developmental disabilities.

"We believe to end someone's life is against the Jewish law," he said.

Kahn's petition says that Howard Kramer doesn't know his sister's "wishes concerning this very crucial end-of-life decision." The brother also has little contact with his sister, the petition claims.

"Over the last several years, he has seldom, if ever, visited Ms. Kramer," Kahn says in the petition. "They have very little to do with one another."

The petition adds that Howard Kramer's religious beliefs are irrelevant — all that matters in the life-support decision are "her beliefs, and hers alone that must be considered."

Howard said he told Judge Martin that he hasn't reached any decision on whether to remove his sister from a ventilator, but he believes it's a determination that only he and his family should make after consulting with doctors.

"A religious organization doesn't get to make the decision on a person's end-of-life care," he said.

"My point is that the issue here isn't whether she should be taken off life support — it's who has the right to decide."