Advise One He is Dying

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim


Hi, my name is xxxxxxx and I am a senior at a Jewish High School in California, I have a question to ask several rabbis or priests regarding terminal illnesses. I hope you can help me. Respond to the following ethical dilemma. Thank you.
A doctor discovers that a 70 year old patient of his Paul, has a kind of incurable cancer that will probably take his life in 6 to 7 months. However, the nature of the disease is such that there will probably not be any symptoms for the first 5 to 6 months. Therefore, the patient will be in a position to continue living his life normally if he is not informed how grave the situation actually is. Paul has been married twice. His first marriage, which ended in divorce, lasted 20 years and produced two daughters. Paul has a son from his second marriage, which also lasted 20 years. Paul has suffered from depression over the years and remains in the care of a psychiatrist. He is, however, generally able to cope with his problem and is rarely helpless. The doctor has to decide whether or not to be totally frank with his patient. Telling the truth may trigger a depression that will, literally, spoil the rest of Paul's life and deprive him of any pleasure of living. On the other hand, the doctor does not really know Paul very well and has, therefore, no idea whether or not there are issues that he will need to address if he is to face the end of his life calmly and with a sense of his work on earth being one. Paul is a Jewish man, as is the doctor.

Mesora: I feel it is unjust to allow someone to die, and not give him the right to make amends with others. One should also be given the right to repent before his death if he is capable of doing so.

Allowing someone to remain ignorant about their approaching death is predicated on the false assumption that this Earthly existence is to e prized over all. This is not Judaism.

One's soul survives physical death. So although the body after death is reposing in the grave, the soul has an eternal afterlife. This state is affected by what and how we live our lives here. Giving someone the painful news of his quickly approaching demise, will enable him to search his thoughts, recall his actions, and make good for the wrongs committed, and ask God for atonement for his sins. This will then secure for him an eternal reward after death, which greatly outweighs the relatively miniscule pain suffered on Earth when he is alerted to his mortality.

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