Euthanasia: Medieval Sources

The major codes of Jewish law forbid actions that hasten death, but some allow the removal of impediments to death.

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Based on this ruling, Rabbi Moses Isserles, known as Rema, in his famous gloss on Karo's code, asserts:

"…if there is anything which causes a hindrance to the departure of the soul, such as the presence near the patient's house of a knocking noise, such as wood chopping, or if there is salt on the patient's tongue, and these hinder the soul's departure, it is permissible to remove them from there because there is no act involved in this at all but only the removal of the impediment."

Furthermore, Rabbi Solomon Eger, in his commentary on Karo's code, quotes another rabbinic authority, who states "it is forbidden to hinder the soul by the use of medicines."  Other  rabbinic  authorities, however, disagree with the latter view.

Rabbi Joshua Boaz Baruch, known as Shiltei Gibborim, pleads for the abolition of the custom of those who remove the pillow from beneath the dying person's head, following the popular belief that the bird feathers contained in the pillow prevent the soul from departing. He further states that Rabbi Nathan of Igra specifically permitted this act.

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Dr. Fred Rosner

Dr. Fred Rosner is Director of the Department of Medicine of the Mount Sinai Services at the Queens Hospital Center and Professor of Medicine at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He is a diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.