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Given that one may not intentionally injure herself - see Rambam (Chovel U’mazik 5:1 and Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 420:31) who rules that it is forbidden for a person to injure herself. Moreover, many authorities have opined that the prohibition is a Torah Law (see Rashba 1:647; Tumim 27:1).

May one intentionally cause herself to experience pain by refusing painkilling medication offered during a medical procedure?

see also Bava Kama 90b

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Looks like it. Thanks. I wonder, though, why you think the prohibition on self-injury may extend to self-pain-infliction. But I suppose answers can deal with that issue. – msh210 Dec 13 '12 at 17:30
@msh210 that's basically my point, we're getting to a more granular definition of injure – user2110 Dec 13 '12 at 17:43
Well, you go beyond self-pain-infliction to self-pain-non-avoidance, actually. – msh210 Dec 13 '12 at 19:52
I don't see how allowing yourself to feel pain is injuring yourself (really translation is damaging). In short words: allowing yourself to feel pain is completely Mutar because it's actual damaging. – Hacham Gabriel Dec 13 '12 at 20:04
@HachamGabriel am I allowed to mentally abuse someone? Doesn't damage include tzar? – user2110 Dec 13 '12 at 20:22

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel [EDIT: was rumored to have] refused to take medication for his Parkinson's [EDIT: supposedly] because he felt it reduced his mental acuity and feared it would interfere with/cause him to forget his learning.


A friend with Parkinson's recently told me that he had heard this rumor (which dates back over a decade; I heard it for the first time in 1997), and that he strenuously objects to the publicizing of the rumor. In his opinion, there are certain drugs associated with Parkinson's treatment that one is required to take, and by promoting this rumor as a means to inspire people, he feels it does an injustice to R' Finkel ZT"L's memory.

While my friend cannot refute the rumor (and I cannot substantiate it), he surmised that R' Finkel may have refused a particular drug, perhaps very long ago, which may have led to this story/rumor spreading.

I can attest as an eye-witness, having met R' Finkel twice, that he did exhibit severe Parkinson's symptoms that made it look like he did not take treatment, or at least not the treatments commonly used to reduce the spasms associated with the disease.

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This is interesting, but here though it is injury to avoid a different injury. – Double AA May 14 '13 at 4:22
En Lemedim Halachot MeMaasim. – Hacham Gabriel Aug 12 '13 at 5:08

If I'm not mistaken there's a responsum of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein that if a woman in labor prefers to go "natural", i.e. without an epidural, she may do so. If I recall from the language Rabbi Feinstein is sort of shrugging as to why a woman would want such a thing, "but if she believes it's better for her or her baby, alright fine."

I suspect a broader answer would have to do with a cost-benefit analysis. If someone would rather avoid the painkillers because their side effects (e.g. constipation) are worse than the pain, that's one thing. If there are theoretically no side effects and someone just wants to suffer, that's more of a philosophical question. Recall that Judaism is not a faith that values suffering per se -- we value strong commitments, and an ability to overcome suffering is a sign of great commitment. (Rabbi Shalom Carmy has an essay about this in regards to the "December dilemma" -- I don't want my kids to feel one iota of deprivation for being Jews, so I'll shower them with consumer junk every December and call it "Hanukah celebration." Then my kids never learn that Judaism can be worth it even if it's not always so easy.)

Rabbi Hershel Schachter is of the opinion that decisions whether to pursue medical treatment are left up to the patient, within a range of what's considered reasonable. Aggressive chemotherapy vs. palliative care for a 70-year-old with advanced cancer? That's probably the patient's decision. A 20-year-old will live to 70 if he has a limb amputated now, or else he'll die within a year? There's only one "reasonable" choice here. I'd be curious how that plays out with questions of pain management, rather than procedures intended to "cure" a condition.

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Yes, it seems that the issur is to intentionally bring yourself pain. For Rav Moshe Fienstien explains in the Darash Moshe that Avraham Aviinu could have davened for the pain of his Brit Mila to go away but he refused because he loved the pain of the mitzva. It did not seem he was obligated to daven to get healed. Refusing to be healed and inflicting yourself are way different. Nacham Eesh Gam zu was in boils had no arms in lots of pain. You think he couldnt of healed it if he wanted to by praying to God. He wanted the atonement.

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En Lemedim Halachot MeMaasim. – Hacham Gabriel Aug 12 '13 at 5:09

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