People are diagnosed with terminal illnesses on a regular basis. Many times a person refuses to undergo treatment because they don't wish to experience the pain and exhaustion that would entail.

While it may buy them more time, the tradeoff isn't necessarily worth it for all patients who may want to live a shorter time but with less pain and exhaustion from more extreme treatments.

My question is what Halacha has to say on the issue.

My assumption is this would likely break down into different categories of considerations.

  • The emotional well-being of the patient would need to be considered as further treatment could compromise them emotionally and amplify their suffering beyond the physical.
  • Suicide being an act of ending a life vs a person accepting a diagnosis for an act of God/nature. In such a case they aren't seeking death but accepting they are reaching their natural end. There may be gray there but the distinction likely matters. This being different from say euthanasia or suicide in the traditional sense.
  • Whether the person has been chronically sick prior. If the individual has been treated for this or other things prior and they continually get sick or experience new and more extreme issues, the nature of past medical experience may relate to whether a future treatment is even worth attempting.
  • The overall outcome statistics. If the person has a 90% success rate in treatment vs a person who is say 5% or less. We obviously wouldn't treat these two situations the same way when considering options.

I was curious as to what has been discussed around this sensitive issue?

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    Rabbi Hershel Schachter is of the opinion that there is a range of options a reasonable patient might take, all of which are acceptable. (Someone who is 20 and would rather die rather than have one finger amputated is told "you're wrong" ... but he got a call about a rich and powerful 60-something-year-old who would need dialysis and didn't want to be "less than" and "needy" for his next 10--20 years; Rabbi Schachter deemed it reasonable for him to choose to refuse treatment -- as reported by Rabbi Brander when the latter was in Boca Raton.)
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 23:15
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    relevant (and maybe duplicate of): Need article on care of terminally ill patients according to halacha
    – mbloch
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 3:13
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    Does this answer your question? Need article on care of terminally ill patients according to halacha Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 7:03
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    "Refusing treatment" is "שב ולא תעשה" (refraining from acting) which is cardinally different from "עשה" (acting). Rabbi Shlomo Shlezinger Z"l Paskened to my mother Z"l not to undergo an experimental treatment for a terminal form of cancer that was proposed by doctors and let it end in the "natural" way.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 7:05
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    To those VTC - the other question only asks for sources and does not discuss the issue.
    – Al Berko
    Commented Apr 14, 2021 at 7:10

1 Answer 1


Conclusion from one such analysis:

In theory, therefore, a patient may not refuse treatment, and treatment may even be forced upon him against his will. At the same time, we’ve seen that there are certain scenarios where we need not force the patient to accept treatment, such as if the patient has legitimate misgivings about the efficacy of the therapy; if there is concern that forcing treatment will cause more harm than good; and if the patient is fearful of the risks of a procedure and the inevitable quality of life decline that will follow.



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