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Monday, 18 May 2015

Do we have the Right to Die?

Daf Yomi Kesubos 104
It’s okay to help someone kill themselves in this country.  Just a few months ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Carter v. Canada, that physicians may assist in the suicide of “competent adults suffering intolerably” who have chosen to give up on life.  By contrast, Judaism believes in the sanctity of life – every moment in this world is a blessing, an opportunity to do more mitzvos and fulfill one’s Divine mission.  Suffering and physical pain are Heavenly tests that one should strive to endure while maintaining one’s faith in the One Above.

Nevertheless, there is one way that Judaism in fact allows us to hasten death, as the following story demonstrates.

The day that Rebbe died, the Rabbis had decreed a fast and were beseeching Heavenly mercy.   They declared, ‘Whosoever shall mention Rebbe’s passing, may he be pierced by the sword!’
Rebbe’s caregiver went up to the roof and announced, “The upper worlds are asking for Rebbe and the lower beings are asking for Rebbe.  May it be G-d’s will that the lower overpower the upper.”

But once she realized how frequently Rebbe was using the facilities, each time having to remove his tefillin and subsequently re-don them in such pain, she announced, “May it be G-d’s will that the upper overpower the lower.” 
The Rabbis, however, would not cease praying.  And so she grabbed a plate and hurled it from the roof to the ground.  Startled by the sound of the plate shattering, they suddenly stopped praying and Rebbe was able to die. 

Every moment in this world is precious and we generally pray for the complete recovery of an ill patient, both for their own sake and for their loved ones.  If, however, a patient is in great agony and there is no chance of recovery, we are not required to prolong their life using drugs and other measures.  Certainly, we are forbidden to actively remove any mechanical aids from the person, such as life support machines.  But we are not obligated to go out of our way to attach such aids, if the person is indeed suffering on their death bed.

What’s more, say our Sages, just like Rebbe’s caregiver, once we realize that there’s no hope of recovery and there’s no point praying for it, we should shift gears and beseech Heaven for an easy death.  Instead of praying they recover, we ask G-d that they die as painlessly as possible.

We don’t wish suffering upon anyone.  While prayers are permitted, physical murder is absolutely forbidden no matter how the patient feels.  May you merit only good health for you and your loved ones!