Tuesday, March 29, 2005

An opinion on " mercy killing" of non-Jews


HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Yeshiva of Rosh Ha'ayin, in Pathways in Medicine, 1984 discusses the following case:

A critically ill non-Jew has only a short time to live and was in intense pain. He and the family requested the doctors give him drugs to cause a speedy death. They agreed, but needed approval of the director of the hospital, a frum Jew, who asked if it was permitted to allow it. He was concerned if he did not allow it, his career would be harmed.

Rav Sternbuch starts with the assumption that shedding blood is prohibited and that this also applies to a Jew killing a non-Jew. He then states that "The Rabbis in our generation have considred the question of whether in our day non-Jews should be considred to be in the same category as the idol-worshippers of Biblical days. They generally come to the conclusion that the non-Jew in our day could be considered an idol-worshipper. Now, according to the Torah, an idol-worshipper is deserving of death. One could suggest taht, in this case, since the Jewish doctor is not actually administering the drugs himself, and since the patient could perhaps be classified as an idol-worshipper who is deserving of death, a Rabbi may give the Jewish doctor permission to sign the authority. One could also say that the strict prohibition against killing a non-Jew refers to an actual killing in a cruel manner, and may well not apply to a case of "mercy-killing" done out of love for the patient, where the Jewish doctor himself would not carry out any physical action in a cruel manner.

Rav Sternbuch in fact did give permission for the doctor to sign the order, considering that the patient was fatally ill, with only a short time to live in any case, noting that "some Rabbis are of the opinion that killing a non-Jew who is on the point of dying need not always be classified as murder."

He then goes on to make it clear that if the hospital treated both Jews and non-Jews, he would certainly not give permission, for fear that mercy-killing would be done on Jews as well. "It should be made clear to all in a Jewish hospital that such an act is out of the question."

Note that he uses a lot of "could", and "some" and "opinion", leaving the impression that l'katchila he is opposed, but is trying to find a way to allow it so(I assume) the director/doctor's career will not be harmed. I may be over reading, but that is how it appears to me. He is certainly not being definitive.

At the end of the chapter he emphasizes that "permission for a Jewish doctor to violate the Sabbath to treat a non-Jew is only to be given in exceptional cases" and discusses those issues.

Unfortunately, there are no footnotes or sources, so I do not have any further information on the basis for the opinions.

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