Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Physician-Assisted Suicide

I feel very bad about neglecting this blog for the past while, but I can't justify the time for writing. I commented to someone the other day that I am giving too many shiurim, and I mean that - I've reached the point at which I'm not devoting the necessary time to make each shiur what it ought to be, because the time just doesn't exist. I'm at 12 shiurim per week, some public and some to particular groups, and it's too much. Something will have to give.

But I'm not taking a moment to write the above just to complain or apologize. I am working on a presentation for Rabbis on Physician-Assisted Suicide, and I'm familiar with the standard sources and ways of looking at the issue -

1. King Shaul's apparent suicide, and the ways in which it might provide justification for suicide in certain situations.

2. Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon's story, and what it can teach.

3. The problem of permitting assault with consent, and halachic/legal justifications for accepting or prohibiting it.

4. The problem of naively trusting legislators to hold a line at a particular place; even if one could define a "King Shaul" category in which suicide was permitted, how out of touch with reality would I have to be, to believe that it would remain defined so? Belgium, anyone?

5. We have legislative precedent in many areas of law (confidentiality, for example) prohibiting people from taking action to benefit themselves, even in cases of dire need, because of potential great harm to society (as in #6 below).

6. As some writers (here, for example) have noted, permitting physician-assisted suicide will undoubtedly create pressure - from physicians, family and themselves - for particular people to end their lives.

7. And then there is the debate as to whether Jews should lobby government to implement laws that match Judaism, at all. I tend to be against such lobbying on most issues, but I worry about this particular law because of #6 above.

I feel there is more to this issue, though, and I'm having trouble defining exactly what I am feeling. Thoughts?


  1. differentiate between cases where the physician is involved in the actual act versus helping set it up - tie into lfnei iver/mesayea.
    Joel Rich

  2. Shalom RosenfeldApril 2, 2014 at 5:31 AM

    I'm sure there's more, but al regel achas, #7: RMF on nondenominational prayer in public school -- "there are arguments both ways, I'm inclined pro, but let's just stay out of this war."