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I'm using the example of a coma for this question, but there are plenty of similar examples that could follow the same structure.

Let's say someone goes into a coma, and begins recovering. At a certain point, they have regained as much functionality as the doctors think they will get. They are now at a new "status quo" of functionality below where they used to be. The doctors don't expect them to progress any further.

The whole time they were recovering, people were davening for their full recovery. Now that, according to the doctors, progress has ceased, should one continue davening for the person?

  • Interminable was probably the wrong word, so if someone comes up with a better word feel free to do me the favor of editing. – Y     e     z Nov 18 '14 at 22:17
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    "Permanent" vegetative state? (I don't like the word permanent, because it's מעשים בכל יום that people come out of "permanent" vegetative states) – Shokhet Nov 18 '14 at 22:35
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    An answer: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/23202 – msh210 Nov 19 '14 at 4:13
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The Chazon Ish (Emunah UBitachon) and others hold that one can always daven for a sick person, no mater how serious his condition is and no matter how slim his chance of recovery is.

The only exception would be a real miracle (not to be confused with a "medical miracle"). For example, one may not daven for someone whose arm was amputated that the arm grow back, because that would be davening for a miracle. But one may daven for someone who the doctors have given up hope on his recovery (a "medical miracle"). Medical miracles happen frequently, and there are countless stories of people in a coma or vegetative state for years coming back to functionality.

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    +1 - are you able to provide a more specific source within Emuna UBitachon? – Y     e     z Feb 3 '15 at 0:58
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The Halichos Shlomo on tephila has a long footnote with relevant points. It's found in chapter 8 on siff 15 footnote #56. I'll quote a few points.

The discussion starts by saying if one ended the bracha of rifaeinu by saying rofei chol bassar by mistake, they have not fulfilled the obligation of that bracha. The reason given is that rophei chol bassar is referring natural means, applicable for all living beings, whereas rophei cholei amo yisrael is the special supernatural healing that Hashem provides for Klal Yisroel.

The footnote says Reb Shlomo Zalman said not to pray publicly for people who the doctors have given up hope to have a natural recovery, even for a great Rabbi. He said the problem would be if there is no recovery, people might lose faith in Hashem's ability to heal. Hfe added to pray not for this person to be healed, but rather that Hashem should do good for him and his family.

The footnote points to Rabi Akiva Eiger in his gloss on Shulchan Aruch siman 230 who quotes the Seffer Chassidim #795 which says 'a person should not seek something out of the realms of nature, even if the ability is in the hands of Hashem. For instance if his wife birthed at eight months, do not pray for the child to live. It is also not to pray for Hashem to perform a miracle against the laws of nature such as for this tree produce fruit before it's time'.

He also points to Reb Shlomo Zalman's Minchas Shlomo siman 91 #24 about the importance to desecrate the Shabbos to save a person in a coma. But goes on to bring a story where people were trying to arrange a communal prayer for someone in this situation, Reb Shlomo Zalman said this person's recovery would fall under the category of Techias Hameisim which we do not pray for, even though we believe that such an act will be performed when Hashem wants.

He goes on to quote sources that prayers for this person's demise are proper in certain situations, but that is not a discussion for here.

He also points to the gemara in Brachos 10a where we learn from Chizkiya Hamelech never to give up one's hope for Hashem's salvation, even when a sharp sword its upon his neck, and therefore one should pray for recovery under any circumstance. He explains that this means to pray on behalf of his life, not to overdo it and try to force the matter.

  • Re R' Eiger, thankfully now with modern medecine an 8 month premature birth will likely live, baruch Hashem. – Noach MiFrankfurt Feb 3 '15 at 16:10
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    @Noach agreed. It was the mashal the seffer chassidim gave. I felt no need to edit it out. It doesn't change his basic point. – user6591 Feb 3 '15 at 16:16
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To quote the Gemara in Berachos 10a:

For background: King Chizkiya was ill. Yeshaya gave him a Nevuah that he would die from this illness, and after telling Chizkiya that there was nothing that could be done at this point, as the decree had already been handed down, Chizkiya had this to say:

בן אמוץ כלה נבואתך וצא כך מקובלני מבית אבי אבא אפי' חרב חדה מונחת על צוארו של אדם אל ימנע עצמו מן הרחמים

Son of Amotz, cease your prophecy and leave! Thus have I accepted from the house of my forefather: even if a sharp sword is placed on a person’s neck, he should not withhold himself from mercy.

As the verses in Yeshaya 38 continue, Chizkiya davened that he recover, and indeed he did, gaining for himself another 15 years on the throne.

According to Rashi, the tradition to which Chizkiya refers is the fact that, as described at the very end of Sefer Shmuel, his forefather David saw the malach prepared to smite Yerushalayim but still prayed.

What we see from here is that even if all seems lost, the doors of prayer are never closed. One is always able to pray.

In fact, this is actually codified in Halacha. One who is on his deathbed should say Vidui, whose basic text, as recorded by the Shulchan Aruch (YD 338:2), reads as follows:

מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ ה' אֱלֹהַי וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתַי שֶׁרְפוּאָתִי וּמִיתָתִי בְּיָדְךָ, יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ שֶׁתְּרַפְּאֵנִי רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה, וְאִם אָמוּת, תְּהֵא מִיתָתִי כַּפָּרָה עַל כָּל חֲטָאִים וַעֲוֹנוֹת וּפְשָׁעִים, שֶׁחָטָאתִי וְשֶׁעָוִיתִי וְשֶׁפָּשַׁעְתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ, וְתֵן חֶלְקִי בְּגַן עֵדֶן, וְזַכֵּנִי לָעוֹלָם הַבָּא הַצָּפוֹן לַצַּדִּיקִים.

I admit to You, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, that my healing and my death are in Your hands. May it be Your will before You that You heal me with a complete healing, but if I die, may my death be an atonement for all of my sins which I have sinned before You, and give my portion in Gan Eden, and may I merit the World to Come which is hidden in waiting for the righteous.

While a large portion of this prayer describes the imminent death which the one praying will seemingly be subjected to, what it is really saying is that Hashem should spare him and let him live, but that if he should die anyway, at least let it be an atonement for his sins. Like by Chizkiya and David, the one praying should never despair, even if there is a sharp sword on his throat.

Perhaps you may argue that the OP’s case is different, though, as it’s someone else davening for him, rather than the patient davening for himself. To that I point to an earlier Gemara in Berachos, on 5b:

אין חבוש מתיר עצמו מבית האסורים

A prisoner cannot free himself from prison.

In context, this means that while a sick person cannot pray to be saved from his own ailment, someone else can. Certainly in our case, where a sick person can save himself, someone else can!

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