Negligence & Culpability
Moshe Ben-Chaim

Reader: It has been a long time since I wrote. I hope you and yours are well. A question: a child was diagnosed with an immune disease that eventually killed the child. In hindsight one of the attending physicians noticed that the original team of doctors had overlooked something in the early reports that MAY have made a difference in the youngster's life. Now that particular professional is ridden with guilty feelings. I would like something halachic to put in his hands to help free him from this emotional and spiritual burden. Thank you, Ed.
Mesora: Ed, I hope all is well. Please inform the original doctor/team, that there should be no guilt for evil "results" if our actions were guided as best as humanly possible. We have little control over the innumerable variables in any situation. One of these variables is our limited knowledge. If action was required to save the child, and all the knowledge available was used, then the doctor should feel equal, to when saving someone. Talmud Berachos, first Mishna in chapter 9 says we must praise God for evil, just as we must do for the good. This means according to a Rabbi's interpretation, that we must accept reality, regardless of our emotional reactions to that reality, be it elation, or disappointment. So too here. The doctor must feel satisfied that he employed his best knowledge, and the results must not detract from his well intended actions. This is the point, to focus on what IS our responsibility, i.e., actions, NOT results, which are not necessarily in our control.
If however, one has overlooked something due to an error of not checking all charts, carelessly deviating from standard protocol, etc., the there is guilt here, as the physician was negligent regarding human life. He must search himself for a cause of this negligence in connection with human life, a grave sin. He must analyze himself, recognize his error, his destruction of human life, and with his regret, commit to absolute, careful behavior to guard against such a sin. He must ask God for forgiveness. God forgives those who sincerely regret their sins, and are 100% committed to removing such a character flaw.
The Torah teaches of one who kills "accidentally". If it was accident, why is there a "City of Refuge" as part of the Torah system, to collect and protect accidental killers from irate relatives? Why does the accidental killer go free with the death of the High priest? What is the connection to this High Priest?
Accidental killers are not so guiltless. Had they been 100% careful not to harm human life, thy would not have killed. It is due to ignorance that an archer, for example, fires his arrow on a person, and not on an animal. Had the archer realized he was not 100% certain whether he aims at a deer or "someone else", he would not have let his arrow fly. There is no excuse for "accidental" murder. This is the Torah's principle. It is based on truth. The archer was careless, just as careless as one ascending a ladder falls on one below him, or a doctor who injects too much medication, or cuts too close to an artery. When human life is at risk, we must be 100% certain we do not endanger another. If this precaution is taken, no one will kill accidentally, ever.
Why is the killer freed with the death of the High Priest? A Rabbi once gave a remarkable answer: the killer knows his freedom depends on the Priest's death. It is almost certain that this killer will wish for the Priest's death. This wish will hopefully awaken the killer to his disregard for human life. Hopefully, he will thereby recognize it is this very disregard that caused his predicament. Forcing a killer to realize his neglect for life is the first step towards repentance, and this is God's wish for all mankind. He wishes we recognize our errors, feel regret, and commit to a change in our values so as never to return to our evil ways. An ingenious answer.
Knowledge of human psychology is essential for an appreciation of Torah laws.