About a year ago I was watching a young Israeli physician examine an Eritrean boy at the Physicians for Human Rights clinic. The boy sat looking at the ground as his cousin explained that he wasn’t sleeping at night, often waking up sweating in terror. He said the boy was wetting the bed and that he couldn’t keep his food down. When he was asked to get up and walk to the examination table, he wrapped both his hands around his thin right thigh and lifted- left, lift, right, left, lift, right. Only 13, he was thin and weak because of his trek across the Sinai desert. Along the way he was kidnapped and held captive for three months by a Bedouin criminal organization where he was tortured, deprived of food and water and forced to wait as his family in Eritrea was extorted of thousands of dollars. That day in the clinic, wearing donated clothes that hung off his frame, was his second day in Tel Aviv. More »
These remarks were part of the invited opening to a recent phone call on health care with President Obama for American rabbis.
When one starts from a worldview in which God is active in the workings of the world, it is quite possible to understand illness and physical weaknesses as God’s judgment on the ailing person, so that any intervention is a challenge to the workings of God’s will. This viewpoint has been voiced by some Jewish thinkers, from the sages of the classical rabbinic tradition, through the great bible commentators of the medieval period, and beyond. In other contexts, and in numerous sources, however, saving a life is considered to be one of the highest commandments in Judaism, so much so that almost every other commandment can be violated to further this end. This quite different perspective – one that validates medical expertise and makes the practice of healing a religious obligation – has also been present in Jewish tradition from its earliest expressions.
Two verses in particular from the Torah serve as the core foundation for what has become the normative Jewish view on healing and access to healthcare. Exodus 21:19 discusses a case in which one person has injured another in an altercation. The Torah rules that the assailant must see to it that the victim receives necessary medical attention: ”he shall certainly heal him.” In context, the obvious meaning is that the assailant must pay the victim’s medical costs, but the rabbis derive additional meaning from the doubling of the verb in Hebrew.
Thus we read in the Talmud, Berakhot 60a and Bava Kama 85a: “It was taught in the school of Rabbi Ishmael: ‘he shall certainly heal him’ – from this source, the healer is given permission to heal.” As Nachmanides noted in his 13th century work, Torat ha-Adam, “this is to say that it is not forbidden because of the concern that the doctor might inadvertently err; also, people should not say ‘the Holy One has struck (the ill person) and is the One to heal.’” Nachmanides continues, “it is a commandment to heal, and is in the category of saving a life.” More »
This appears to be based on the life expectancy of 81, low rankings of infectious diseases, low newborn mortality rate, comparatively low numbers of people dying of cardiovascular disease and lots of doctors.
Weird. I don’t know quite what to make of it. I’m sure our readers will fill me in. And what does all this say about my family history of heart problems.
I may be in the USA these days, but I still get much of my news from Canada. Reading a CBC article this morning, I was disappointed that the reporter(s) didn’t add to the following:
Golubchuk and his family are Orthodox Jews who believe it is immoral to hasten death.
“When a person is born, it’s written down when they’re gonna die,” Golubchuk’s daughter, Miriam Geller, told CBC news. “So it’s God that decides this, not the doctors.”
The issue at hand is that Samuel Golubchuk, 84, “has no brain function” and three doctors at Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital have now refused to keep him “physically alive on a ventilator.” One of the physicians made the following case:
Last month, in a letter to the Winnipeg health authority, Golubchuk’s original attending physician, Anand Kumar, said he would no longer work in Grace Hospital’s critical care unit because it meant providing medical services to his former patient [Golubchuk] that were “grotesque.”
Golubchuk had developed bedsores, Anand wrote, and doctors were having to trim infected flesh from his body to prevent infections from spreading.
“To inflict this kind of assault on him without a reasonable hope of benefit is an abomination,” Anand’s letter said. “I can’t do it.”
Golubchuk has been “on life support” since “late last year,” and has no hopes of recovering. First do no harm. [Full article with comments here.]
I have found myself annoyed with many media for dropping in religious statements without explanations or any proof. Just because a subject mentions “my religion says foo” doesn’t mean foo is actually the correct or only interpretation/understanding/belief. And I want to see the media start to pay more attention to this. This article could easily have included a paragraph explaining the Orthodox perspectives on death and/or medically assisted dying. Instead, readers with no background on the topic will go away thinking that Orthodoxy (and Judaism as a whole by extension) is flat-out against taking someone without hope of recovery off life support. And, coupled with the moral and ethical conclusions found later in the paragraph, might also believe that Orthodoxy (Judaism) is unethical or immoral.
…Or, I’m completely overreacting and unreasonable to think the press has dropped the ball here. In which case, I’ve been reading too much GetReligion.
Today is the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
These years have not been easy years, and certainly for many of them, we have had to spend our energy trying to fight those who would overturn it. But it is a struggle we must continue with. To go back to the days before Roe v. Wade would be a disaster: in the dark days in which abortions were outlawed in most states, women died, regularly, of botched abortions. I don’t suppose it’s news to anyone that that’s the case, but just in case, let’s review a current case: Nicaragua.
Since Nicaragua outlawed abortions once again in 2006, we know of – for certain- over 100 women who have died. Keep in mind those are the ones who were reported, who made news; we will probably never know how many women really.
Over at Human Rights Watch, check out their report, from which I quote:
A medical doctor at a large public hospital in Managua, however, testified to one case:
Here [at this hospital] we have had women who have died.â€¦ For example, [name withheld] came here and had an ultrasound. It was clear that she needed a therapeutic abortion. No one wanted to carry out the abortion because the fetus was still alive. The woman was here two days without treatment until she expulsed the fetus on her own. And by then she was already in septic shock and died five days later. That was in March 2007.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to reexamine a new York court ruling upholding a state law that forces religious-based social service agencies to subsidize contraceptives as part of prescription drug coverage they offer employees.
Since New York is one of 23 states that require employers that offer prescription benefits to employees to cover birth control pills as well,this refusal to hear the case will actually have quite wide effect. I suppose I should mention that I am very surprised by this, given the current makeup of the court. The original law was made in 2002, called the “Women’s Health and Wellness Act” and requires health plans to cover a number of services aimed at women, including contraception, mammography, cervical cancer screenings and bone density exams.
Catholic Charities and other religious groups argued New York’s law violates their First Amendment right to practice their religion because it forces them to violate religious teachings that regard contraception as sinful.
“If the state can compel church entities to subsidize contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs, it can compel them to subsidize abortions as well,” the groups said in urging the court to take their case. “And if it can compel church entities to subsidize abortions, it can require hospitals owned by churches to provide them.”
Other Catholic and Baptist organizations are part of the lawsuit. Seventh-Day Adventist and Orthodox Jewish groups signed onto a brief filed in support of Catholic Charities.
Three years ago the court rejected a challenge to a similar law in California….
The New York law contains an exemption for churches, seminaries and other institutions with a mainly religious mission that primarily serve followers of that religion. Catholic Charities and the other groups sought the exemption, but they hire and serve people of different faiths
This is all pretty amazing in my eyes, but a welcome respite from the usual (at least recently) hijinks of the high court. While, I sympathize with the religious organizations that don’t want to offer services that their faith group opposes, I have to say frankly, that if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Catholic hospitals are now a juggernaut in the American health care system, and if they decide tomorrow that arterial plaque is holy, I don’t want to have travel possibly to another state to get treatment for heart disease. This reminds me of the entire brou-ha-ha over the D&X procedure, in which Congresspersons were shown doctors performing dilation and extraction abortions, and obviously it looked yucky; well, that’s because when you do surgery, there’s blood. Open heart surgery isn’t all that pretty either. Nevertheless, sometimes people’s lives are at stake, and according to Jewish law, when one’s life is at stake one not only may, but must, take action. Thus, if I live in a place where I can’t get services because all the hospitals are run by Catholic institutions, my religious beliefs are being violated. And that holds, according to the groups pursuing this case, even if I can find a Jewish doctor to perform my bypass surgery, or whatever.
Yay to New York, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia (the other states with similar laws).
If you don’t live in one of these states, consider it a good idea to get a law like this passed in yours. One should be able to consult one’s own religious teachers and guides for instruction on what is permissible, and not have to obey someone else’s. Your doctor and you should be making your health care decisions, not the pope, or some reverend so-and-so somewhere.
The Forward reports on “highest-level case in American history involving the right to circumcision is slated to be heard this fall, when the Oregon Supreme Court rules on whether a father can have his 12-year-old son undergo the procedure.”
The basis of the case is a nasty custody battle, with the father a recent convert to Judaism. The mother claims that the boy is afraid to tell his father that he does not want to be circumcised. I note that there is no mention of whether the boy has an opinion on the conversion (at least none in this article) itself. The mother also claims that the child would be psychologically and physically harmed by the procedure (I wonder what our Muslim fellow citizens think of that?).
The thing that’s unusual about the case is that generally American courts stay out of cases involving religion such as this. The Forward comments:
The acceptance of the case by Oregonâ€™s highest court is surprising, because judges generally grant a wide degree of latitude to custodial parents â€” so much so, in fact, that the stateâ€™s Court of Appeals rejected the motherâ€™s case without issuing an opinion. If the Oregon Supreme Court decides to review the merits of the fatherâ€™s plan for circumcision, it will almost inevitably weigh in on two related issues: the right of custodial parents to guide their childrenâ€™s religious upbringings, and the weight that religious considerations should be given when considering the welfare of a child.
Because of this, the stakes are generally conceded to be high by everyone, and so badvocates for both sides of the story are getting their elbows in the door.
All I have to say: It doesn’t bode well for the poor kid – Ms. Boldt (the mother) may be full of concern for her son’s psychological health, but I wonder if maybe they could iron out some of these other matters first – like what his name is.
According to Reuters, a new study from researchers at McGill University, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, have revealed what lots of people have known all along: circumcision has no effect on sexual sensation.
There’s lots of things I could say here, but the truth is, this study doesn’t much matter. For those who are determined to stop circumcision, this won’t make any difference – they’ll go on touting the flawed studies they’ve been using (one big problem that I noted a while back with those studies- they relied on men circumcised as adults, and also several of them on men who were unhappy with their circumcisions. Um, durr) and for those who are commanded to circumcise, well as they ought, they’ll go on circumcisiing. Because in the end, that’s the reason one does it. Not because it’s healthier for their sexual partners, or because it lowers the (relatively miniscule anyway) risk of penile cancer. Circumcision for Muslims and Jews is because God commanded it. That’s it. Move along now.
Cannabis chassidis is about to retire, as I’m pretty sure I’ve said
most of what I want to say with it. I’m probably going to keep writing
something somewhere else, but before it folds: Is there anything that
still needs to be explored on it? I’ve taken the questions of religion
and drugs as far as I think I can without getting redundant too often,
but if there’s anything else anyone wants explored there, post a
comment on www. cannabischassidis.blogspot.com. I’ll do one more big
post in a month or so based on whatever feedback I get, and then one
more after that to tie it all together.
Otherwise, feel free to rifle the archives, they should be up for at
least a little bit longer, and if you want, feel free to save, print
them out, and translate or distribute the Torah there as needed. I’m
commenting here now and again, and also on this one raw, unkempt blog
called sevenfatcow.wordpress.com, amongst others as needed.
Zai Gezunt, happy redemption, and Stay High.
Daniel Kernerâ€™s parents knew the experimental brain surgery was risky, but without it the 6-year-old surely would die.
Last month in Portland, Ore., doctors for the first time transplanted stem cells from aborted fetuses into his head in a desperate bid to reverse, or at least slow, a rare genetic disorder called Batten disease. The so-far incurable condition normally results in blindness and paralysis before death.
Doctors donâ€™t know if the neural stem cells taken from fetuses â€” donated to a nonprofit medical foundation by women aborting early-stage pregnancies â€” will save Danielâ€™s life. But the boy has sufficiently recovered from his 8-hour surgery to be expected to return to his Orange County, Calif., home Friday â€” the first day of Hanukkah.
â€œWe donâ€™t think that is a coincidence,â€ said Marcus Kerner, who said a deep faith in Judaism and long hours of prayer prompted the family to volunteer Daniel for the risky procedure. Daniel was diagnosed two years ago and has since lost the ability to walk and talk. Daniel is the first volunteer of an experiment that plans to operate on five more afflicted children over the next year.
â€œHe was a little boy who was basically waiting to die, now heâ€™s waiting to get better,â€ said Kerner. He said Daniel recently called him â€œDadâ€ for the first time in two years.