When Ariel Sharon died in January this year, eight years after a stroke, she had probably survived longer than would have been the case if she had lived anywhere else in the world.
Since 2005 it has been illegal in Israel to turn off life support devices when a person is dying or has no hope of recovery. The result is that a large number of patients spend years in intensive care, many of them in an unconscious state.
After surviving Auschwitz only to find himself without a family home after the war, Hava, now 80, made a promise to himself.
When she grew up she would have her children young, she would provide them with a warm home and then after she left home, she and her husband, Schmail, would have a second childhood and this time, she would be happier.
For a while she was, but then her husband developed heart disease and one day, at the age of 71, he collapsed.
For the past 12 years he has been confined to a bed in a converted mental hospital in the hills outside Jerusalem.
Like all the other patients here, he is silent with a large tube attached to a hole in his throat that pumps air into his lungs.
Hava spends six hours a day by his side. «I try to talk to him,» she tells me. «I let him know that he is not alone.»
He is unconscious, but she thinks the only voice she recognizes is hers. «I try to keep him alive,» she says.
Some patients are propped up on pillows. Others, fewer, stare into the distance, but for the most part each room contains people who look as if they are sleeping, somehow suspended in limbo between life and death.
In the nursing room there is a closed circuit television monitor, where the 20 patients can be seen on a screen and you see very little movement, only people asleep.
In most countries there would not be a room like this. Doctors and families would discuss the patient’s condition and may have made the decision to turn off Schmail’s ventilator to allow him to die.
But since 2005 this is illegal in Israel and is considered to be killing the patient, even if they are already dying.
The law in Israel was changed by Jewish tradition, but talking to families of other religions in the hospital here seems to have become a cultural point of view as well.
When I enter the children’s room I see colors, friezes on the wall and the sounds of nursery rhymes. There are 22 children here and it looks like any other children’s ward, except for the absence of noise.
Some of these children were saved from drowning, others had near fatal accidents. It’s like they’re taking a nap, except they don’t wake up. And naturally, over the years they grow.
I meet Eli Cohen, whose daughter was just three years old when she choked on her own vomit overnight, depriving her brain of oxygen.
He tells me that she was a «very, very sweet girl», but there is very little chance of recovery.
Any act that hastens death is prohibited under Israeli law, so it is illegal to remove the ventilator when the patient is dying even if it means relieving their suffering.
She is now 14 years old and looks like a teenager. Her sisters visit her every day to keep her up to date with family events.
He is in bed on a ventilator and his movement is limited. «She can’t even blink,» Eli said. «But she moves a little.»
«We don’t know exactly what he’s thinking,» his father tells me. As an ultra-Orthodox Jew he says that he believes that what has happened to her must have happened for a good reason. «But now I even sit next to her and cry about her,» he says.
During this time, Eli and his family have visited the ward regularly, telling him about their Lives and bringing news from the outside world.
Aside from any changes in her condition, her daughter has progressed from being a child to a teenager. In four years she will be a young woman and will be moved to the adult ward.
by your side
The doctors seem to encourage a sense of hope. One tells me: «The hope of a miracle is a fundamental trait of being human.»
I’m looking around the room and another doctor comes to tell me that a mother has heard that we are here and has asked me to come and talk to her adult son.
She thinks that having the BBC here might be enough to wake him up. She looks expectant. I knew I was going to disappoint her.
He is from Georgia and does not speak Hebrew, but through a translator he tells me: «I have been here every day and every night for eleven years.»
It seems that your son is asleep, but he too is unconscious after cardiac arrest.
Next to the bed is a mattress folded against the wall, along with several giant shopping bags, a small refrigerator, and a coffee maker.
Although she does not speak the same language as the medical staff, she has made the room her home.
He now lives next to his son’s bedside and his daughter who works in a nearby store also visits often. Her mother is determined not to leave the head of the bed in case she wakes up.
Like Hava, he continues with the person he loves. Hava says the experience has changed her.
She has learned to live from day to day and has advice for me, «You can’t live your life in the future. Do what you have to do now and not later.»