A Miracle Cure?

Question

Dear Rabbi, is it ever okay for a doctor to tell a patient or the family that the medical situation is “incurable” and hopeless? Is this an appropriate way to view sickness and health according to Judaism?

6 months

Answers

  1. No, for at least two reasons. First of all, the doctors are only human and sometimes make mistaken diagnoses or prescribe incorrect treatment and end up harming and even killing the patient.

    There are many recorded cases (and doubtless many more unrecorded ones) of misdiagnosis, and this and this phenomenon is well documented in numerous studies. Doctors aren’t perfect, but many behave as though they were. As John Webster put it, “Physicians are like kings.” In other words — don’t argue with the doctor.

    And even when the diagnosis may be correct, doctors still don’t have the last word. The Torah repeats the phrase, v’rapoh, yerapeh, “And heal, he will heal…” (Ex. 21:19). This “repetition” of the word “heal” teaches that doctors are allowed to heal people. Why would I ever think in that healing is forbidden? Because the Torah also says, “I, the Lord, am your Healer.” (Ex. 15:26) Maybe only the Lord is “your Healer;” maybe healing is from God, and no mortal has the right to interfere in this process? Therefore the Torah has to tell us “he [the doctor] will heal…”

    The lesson here seems needlessly convoluted. Why does the Torah set up a presumption that only God can heal, “I, the Lord, am your Healer;” and then counter this presumption with another verse, “he will heal…” The answer is that another lesson is being taught here as well.

    Doctors may have the right to heal, but they have no right to despair.

    The word “incurable” has no place in the doctor’s lexicon. A doctor may say, “We have no cure for this at the present time,” or “This case is beyond my expertise,” or “There’s nothing more we can do,” but the word “incurable” should never escape a doctor’s mouth.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team