Ask The Rabbi

Assisted Suicide

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Suicide

Jonathan from Grand Rapids, MI wrote:
Dear Rabbi,

We vote here Tuesday. There is an "assisted suicide" proposal on Michigan's ballot this year. I know it's not right, but it's hard to say it's wrong. People really do suffer so terribly much at the end of certain terrible diseases. A guy was telling me the other day how much his mother suffered, although medication provided some relief. Your comments, dear Rabbi, are welcome; before Tuesday would be nice.


Dear Jonathan,

It is forbidden to commit suicide. G-d told this to Noach by saying, "Even your own blood, that of your own lives, will I demand (accountability for)" (Bereishet 9:5). Our unbroken tradition explains that this was a prohibition against suicide and that it is part of the "Seven Noachide Laws."

The idea is basically this: A person's life isn't "his" - rather, it belongs to the One who created it, G-d. Therefore, only its true Owner may reclaim it. Despite one's noble intentions, "mercy-killing" is an intervention into a forbidden domain. This does not mean that one should be lax about relieving the person's pain. Now, among the laws that G-d gave Noach was a command to set up courts to enforce these "Seven Noachide Laws." Therefore, the "assisted-suicide law" can't be considered merely a "privacy-of-your-own-home" issue, because society as a whole is responsible to enforce the Noachide laws. Therefore, the right thing to do is to vote against assisted suicides. Voting for them, or staying home on Election Day, would be helping people to transgress.

There are other considerations that are beyond the scope of this column, such as passive/active intervention, and the exact definition of death. For these and related topics, see the list of sources below.

Sources:

  • Practical Medical Halacha - Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists," Feldheim Publishing
  • Medical Halacha for Everyone," Abraham S. Abraham, Feldheim Publishing
  • Jewish Ethics and Halacha for Our Time," Basil F. Herring, Ktav Publishing
  • Judaism and Healing," J. David Bleich, Ktav Publishing


 
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