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What is the halacha on how imminent the danger of death has to be for you to be allowed to invoke pikuach nefesh and break a commandment to save a life?

Obviously if someone is drowning before your eyes and you can save him by breaking a commandment (without seriously endangering your own life), you do it. But what if the danger is, say, exposure to radiation that will cause cancer 20 years later?

I know that in cases of uncertainty on whether a life is really at risk, you err on the side of offering assistance. [Yoma 8:6] But here I am asking about timing, not uncertainty. Any sources?

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  • I know the poskim discuss eating on Yom kippur for a person where they wouldn't die on Yom Kippur, but they might have complications which could end up being fatal. But that's still a direct consequence. I think that's really a factor which you should be considering: how much is a time element, and how much is a direct consequence. it could be that 20 years is not called pikuach nefesh (if it's not) because it's a long time away; or because lots of factors could cause cancer in 20 years, and it's not clearly a directly consequence of the radiation. – Binyomin May 3 '20 at 22:38
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    I'd say, if you are to err on the side of offering assistance in the case of an uncertainty (death might occur soon), so much more so should you err (if it is even considered erring) on the side of offering assistance in the case of a delayed certainty (death will occur, but a lot later). There still would be a question regarding a situation of delayed uncertainty (death might occur, and even then, only a lot later). – Tamir Evan May 4 '20 at 0:50
  • @TamirEvan -- "err ... on the side of offering assistance in the case of a delayed certainty (death will occur, but a lot later). " It is never "certain". What if a cure for cancer is found ten years later? – Maurice Mizrahi May 7 '20 at 0:26

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