Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight


Window into the Charedi World | Mordecai Plaut, director







Opinion & Comment
Choose Life

Death has become part of modern living. To be sure, people who lived always died. The "modern innovation" is murder. To be sure, people have always killed each other. The "modern innovation" is that it has become legally sanctioned and socially acceptable.

The issue was brought to the fore in Israel last week by press reports of the performance of a "mercy" killing in Hadassah Hospital in Yerushalayim. This was the first widely publicized legalized killing under a law that was passed by Meretz in a Parliamentary maneuver four years ago.

Professor Avinoam Reces, a neurologist and senior staff member of the Ein Kerem medical center, unhooked Itai Arad, a 49-year-old former air force pilot who suffered from the degenerative muscle disease known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, from his respirator. Arad, who only needed intermittent respiration, died some 24 hours later.

Arad fought for years to die painlessly. He received a court order permitting this two years ago upon his request. Four months ago he asked the doctors in Meir Hospital of Kfar Sava to disconnect him and allow him to die but they refused. Reces was more agreeable and, after getting the concurrence of senior members of the health field in Israel and a reaffirmation of the court order, he went ahead.

Four years ago this month, a special psak signed by HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt'l, as well as by ylct'a HaRav Y. S. Eliashiv, HaRav S. Wosner and HaRav N. Karelitz declared that even a terminally ill patient must get normal care. His end must not be hastened "in order to lessen his suffering, by not giving him food or medical treatment, and certainly it is forbidden to hasten his end by an act . . ."

Holland has had a law similar to Israel's for some time. The experience there shows that it is difficult to restrict the "mercy killing" once it gets started. For example, though the patient's consent is required, doctors in Holland admitted that they sometimes assumed this consent in the case of patients who were unable to communicate, when it was "obvious" to the doctors that they would want to die.

Murder is one of the three cardinal sins but it is nonetheless easy to forget that there is a powerful push to kill. It is part of the yetzer hora whose goal is to maximize death: all sin pushes the transgressor closer to death.

Death presents the apparent conquest of the man by the forces of nature, and this suggestion is deeply antithetical to Torah. The dead body is the apparent victory of the physical forces that, throughout his life, struggle with the soul and try to drag man lower and lower toward his material side.

After death the soul, the main part of man, is no longer evident. It has departed. The body remains, the apparent victor.

Because of this, pagan society was always fascinated by death. Many societies -- such as the ancient Romans -- worshiped dead ancestors. They saw it as the ultimate power, and as such they felt it necessary to placate it as they did the other, lesser forces that they saw around them.

We are not afraid to confront death since we know that our soul is what is really important and it persists and even flourishes after leaving the earthly sphere. On the other hand, we struggle mightily against it, since we know that it is the end of any opportunity for growth, which is found only in this material world.

We must not forget that even after the Torah explained our choice as between life and death, ". . . life and death have I placed before you . . ." it was still necessary to add: " . . . and you should choose life." (Devorim 30:19)

This is a message we must spread.

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