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The Jewish View on Euthanasia.

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Euthanasia, Judaism

Mark from Washington D.C. wrote:

I was wondering about Euthanasia and Jewish law. I know that it's wrong to murder, but this is an act of mercy, and wouldn't euthanasia be like the verse that says to "love the your fellow person as yourself"?


Dear Mark,

When I began to write this response, my son came over to me and asked "Abbah, what are you writing?" "An answer regarding halachic problems with Euthenasia." "But Abbah, why would the rabbis write about the children in Asia??" (|:-)

You are correct in your assumption that we are commanded to love another person (even someone that starts out with a bad joke)- but, of course this care and concern for others must be expressed in a manner which is not contrary to Jewish law.

Jewish law forbids euthanasia in all forms, and is considered an act of homicide. The life of a person is not "his" - rather, it belongs to the One Who granted that life. It may be therefore be reclaimed only by the true Owner of that life. Despite one's noble intentions, an act of mercy-killing is flagrant intervention into a domain that transcends this world.

One source in the Chumash for this prohibition may be found the Book of Genesis:

"But your blood of your lives will I require; ...from the hand of man, from the hand of a person's brother, will I require the life of man."

The additional phrase "a person's brother" after having already stated "from the hand of man" is redundant. The author of the book HaKtav v'haKaballah explains that this verse refers to a prohibition against euthanasia. Although murder is the opposite of brotherly love, one might think that euthanasia is in fact a permitted expression of brotherly love. This verse imprints on our conscience that this particular form of "brotherly love" is nothing more than plain murder.

This does not mean that one should be lax about relieving the other person's pain. Elimination of suffering is a commendable goal. In fact, this may permit even "aggressive" treatment of pain to a degree that is not standard medical practice. For example, heroin use for treatment of pain may be acceptable according to Jewish law, in spite of the risk of addiction. It may be prohibited, however, by civil law.

There are other considerations which are beyond the scope of this column, such as passive/active intervention, prayer for a suffering person's death, and the definition and treatment of a moribund patient (goses). These and other related topics may be further studied of the texts in the accompanying list of sources.

Sources:

  • "Judaism and Healing" - J. David Bleich, Ktav Publishing House.
  • HaKtav v'haKaballah, ibid.
  • Bereshis - 9:5.
  • "The Jewish Attitude Towards Euthanasia," by Fred Posner, Jewish Bio-Ethics, by Fred Posner & J. David Bleich, Sanhedrin Press.
  • Jewish Ethics and Halacha for Our Time, by Basil F. Herring, "Euthanasia", Ktav Publishing.
  • Practical Medical Halacha - Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists, "Euthanasia", Feldheim Publishing.
  • Medical Halacha for Everyone - Abraham S. Abraham, "Euthanasia or Mercy Killing", Feldheim Publishing.


 
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