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"For Instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the L-rd from Jerusalem." -- Isaiah 2:3


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GENESIS — 9:5 blood

Jewish teaching with regard to [prolongation of the life of the terminally ill] is shaped by the principle not only that human life in general is of infinite and inestimable value, but that every moment of life is of infinite value as well.  Accordingly, obligations with regard to treatment and cure are one and the same regardless of whether the patient’s life is likely to be prolonged for a matter of years or merely for a few seconds. Thus, on the Sabbath, no less than on a weekday, efforts to free a victim buried under a collapsed building must be continued even if the victim is found in circumstances such that survival for longer than a brief time is impossible. See Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 329:4 Life with suffering is regarded, in many cases, as preferable to cessation of life and with it the elimination of suffering.  The Gemara in Sotah 22a, followed by Rambam, Hilkhot Sotah 3:20, indicates that the woman required to drink “the bitter waters” (Numbers 6:11 – 31) did not always die immediately. If she was guilty of the offense with which she was charged but had some other merit, the waters did not cause her to perish immediately, but instead produced a debilitating and degenerative state which led to a protracted termination of life. The added longevity, although accompanied by pain and suffering, is deemed a privilege bestowed in recognition of meritorious actions. Life accompanied by pain is thus viewed as preferable to death.  See also Tosefot Yom Tov, Sotah 1:9.  This sentiment is reflected in the words of the Psalmist, “The Lord has indeed chastised me, but He has not left me to die” (Psalms 118:18). The practice of euthanasia, whether active or passive, is contrary to the teachings of Judaism. Any positive act designed to hasten the death of the patient is equated with murder in Jewish law, even if death is hastened by only a matter of moments. No matter how laudable the intentions of the person performing an act of mercy killing maybe, the deed constitutes an act of homicide. One nineteenth-century commentator finds this principle reflected in [this verse].  Fratricide is certainly no less heinous a crime than ordinary homicide. Why then, having already prohibited homicide, is it necessary for Scripture to prohibit fratricide as well? R. Jacob Zevi Mecklenburg, in his commentary on the Pentateuch, Ha-Ketav ve-ha-Kabbalah, astutely comments that, while murder is the antithesis of brotherly love, in some circumstances the taking of the life of one’s fellow man may be perceived as an act of love par excellence.  Euthanasia, designed to put an end to unbearable suffering, is born not of hatred or anger, but of concern and compassion. It is precisely the taking of life and circumstances in which it is manifestly obvious that the perpetrator is motivated by feelings of love and brotherly compassion that the Torah finds necessary to brand as murder pure and simple.  Despite the noble intent that prompts such action, mercy killing is proscribed as an unwarranted intervention in an area which must be governed by G-d alone. The life of man may be reclaimed only by the Author of life. So long as man is yet endowed with the spark of life, as defined by G-d’s eternal law, man dare not presume to hasten death, no matter how hopeless or meaningless continued existence may appear to be in the eyes of a mortal. Hurwitz 58-9

GENESIS — 9:5 blood

Judaism regards human life as of infinite and inestimable value. The quality of the life that is preserved is thus never a factor to be taken into consideration. Nor is the length of the patient’s life expectancy a controlling factor. Since Judaism regards every moment of life as sacred, the patient is obliged to seek treatment, and religious laws are suspended for the sake of such treatment even if there is no medical guarantee of a cure. Similarly, the physician’s duty does not end when it is no longer possible to restore the lost health of the patient. The obligation “and you shall restore it to him” Deuteronomy 22:2 refers, in its medical context, not simply to the restoration of health, but to the restoration of even a single moment of life. Again, Sabbath restrictions and other laws are suspended even when it is known with certainty that human medicine offers no hope of a cure or restoration to health. Ritual obligations and restrictions are suspended so long as there is the possibility that life may be prolonged even for a matter of moments.  Hurwitz 62-3

EXODUS — 20:13 murder

The Commandment "Thou shall not kill" is more precisely rendered as "Thou shall not murder" [this verse]. (1) Ending a life is murder when, and only when, it stems from base motives, malice, and violence, against the victim's will. (2) Ending a life is irresponsible when the motives, though not base, are superficial and ill-considered (as when a man in his prime takes his own life because of a career fiasco, without considering his wife and children). (3) Yet the ending of a life can also be responsible when happening in its due time. Both the Bible and traditional Catholic concepts hold that "Life is, of possessions, not the highest" (Schiller). The idea that life is beyond our power of disposal is by no means unconditionally valid: risking life for the sake of a higher good, individual and collective defense unto the death of the aggressor, the fatal shot which saves lives when hostages are being taken, and deploying troops at the risk of their lives – – all these are regarded as morally acceptable.

LEVITICUS — 19:16 idly

Because of the enormous value placed on human life, we are expected to spare virtually no effort to save human life, even for a short time. And conversely, the deliberate taking of a human life is considered one of the most grievous sins a person can commit. Not only is the active taking of human life a terrible crime, but the Jewish tradition also considers an abtension from saving a life as a serious offense. In contrast to the Western notion of individualism under which a person is not obligated to come to another's aid, the Torah specifically admonishes us: "Do not stand idly by your fellow's blood." [this verse]. Allowing someone to die while taking a laissez-faire attitude is not acceptable either for a physician or for a layman. Thus there is a virtual unanimity that active euthanasia, even for a suffering human being who is imploring the physician to take action to terminate the suffering, is simply not acceptable. Shortening a patient's life by deliberate injection or other similar means remains murder even if life is shortened by just a few moments, and even if the intention is compassionate. No less forbidden is suicide or assisted suicide. One has no more right to take one's own life than to take another's life. It has even been suggested that suicide is, in a way, worse than murder. A murderer has an opportunity for repentance after the dead, and indeed death itself is regarded as a mechanism of forgiveness. But the person who commits suicide forfeits the possibility of repentance, for the very act of death, which might redound to a person's credit, is in this case itself the result of a venal sin.

LEVITICUS — 19:18 love

Palliation of Pain. Elimination of pain is assuredly a legitimate and laudable goal. According to some authorities, mitigation of pain is encompassed within the general obligation to heal (sources omitted). Palliative treatment is certainly mandated by virtue of the commandment "and you shall love your neighbor as yourself" [this verse]. When the dual goals of avoidance of pain and preservation of life come into conflict with one another, however, Judaism recognizes the paramount value and sanctity of life and, accordingly, assigns priority to preservation of life. Thus, a number of authorities have expressly stated that non-treatment or withdrawal of treatment in order for the patient to be released from pain by death constitutes euthanasia and is not countenanced by Judaism (footnotes omitted). This remains the case even if the patient pleads to be permitted to die. As stated by one prominent authority, "even if the patient himself cries out, 'Let me be and do not give me any aid, because for me death is preferable,' everything possible must be done on behalf of the patient." (Tzitz Eli'ezer, IX, no. 47, sec.5) Nevertheless, every prudent effort should be made to alleviate the patient's suffering. This includes aggressive treatment of pain even to a degree which at present is not common in medical practice. Physicians are reluctant to use morphine in high dosages because of the danger of depression of the cerebral center responsible for respiration. The effect of morphine administered in high doses is that the patient cannot control the muscles necessary for breathing. There is, however, no halakhic objection to providing such medication in order to control pain in the case of terminal patients even though palliation of pain may ultimately entail maintaining such a patient on a respirator. Similarly, there is no halakhic objection to the use of heroin in the control of pain in terminal patients. The danger of addiction under such circumstances is, of course, hardly a significant consideration. At present, the use of heroin is illegal even for medical purposes.

LEVITICUS — 20:2 death

Not only does Judaism accept war, it accepts capital punishment as a means of dealing with internal enemies who are thought to threaten the physical or moral status of Jewish or general society. Not only do we read biblical passages enjoining the death penalty, but we read passages describing it being carried out for transgressions which to the modern eye do not seem worthy of death [this verse, Leviticus 24:23].

LEVITICUS — 25:38 live

It is clear that, when halakhically indicated, a patient is not only obligated to seek medical care but may be compelled to do so. See sources cited in [ROSNER-BLEICH, p. 43, n. 100, df. Ibid. p. 42, n. 97]. Since the obligation of rescue is phrased as a prohibition against standing idly by "the blood of your fellow," the source of an obligation to save one's own life is somewhat elusive. It is, of course, an uncontested halakhic principle that "A person is his own relative" (adam karov ezel azmo). See Sanhedrin 9b and 25a, Ketubbot 18b, and Yevamot 25b. By the same token, it may be argued that a person is his own " fellow" and thus owes himself the selfsame duties [lengthy source list omitted]. Note should be taken of the fact that the Gemara, Bava Mezi'a 62a, cites the verse "and your brother shall live with you" (Leviticus 25:38) in establishing that preservation of one's own life must be given preference over the rescue of another. An obligation to preserve one's own life may readily be inferred from that definition. Also, Rambam, Hilkhot Roze'ah 11;4, cites the verse "take heed of yourself and safeguard yourself" (Deuteronomy 4:9) as establishing an obligation "to be watchful" with regard to any matter that poses a danger, as well as the negative commandment "and you shall not bring blood upon your house" (Deuteronomy 22:8) as establishing an obligation to remove a source of danger. See also Hilkhot Roze'ah 11:5. The latter verses serve to establish a positive command, whereas "nor shall you stand idly by the blood of your fellow" establishes a more stringent negative prohibition for failure to seek life-saving interventions. Afikei Yam, II, no. 40, s.v. ve-haya, suggests that failure to preserve one's own life may be halakhically equivalent to suicide. Pesika Rabbati, chap. 24, advances an exegetical rendition of lo tirzah (Exodus 20:13) as lo titrazah in establishing that felo-de-se is encompassed in the prohibition against murder [lengthy list of additional sources omitted]. Rambam, Hilkhot Roze'ah 2:3, declares suicide to be prohibited on the basis of the verse "But your blood of your lives I will require" (Genesis 9:5) ...

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