This incident may not have happened exactly as listed, but that's not the point. For the purpose of this question, we'll assume it did. During World War II, The scientists at the Manhattan Project wanted to know how certain radioactive chemicals are metabolized. They designed an experiment in which they took several terminally ill patients and injected them (or fed them) lethal doses of the radioactive chemicals. The excrement of the patients was monitored. The rationale behind this experiment was the subjects' illnesses would kill them before the chemicals anyways, so they weren't really doing any harm.

So what is the halachic view of this? Could a Jew be part of this experiment? On one hand, they were expected to die anyways, so the radioactivity wasn't likely to kill them. And if you'll say they could've recovered through some miracle, then they could also be saved from the chemicals by a miracle! On the other hand, you could also say that scientists don't really know how long someone will live, and you can't needlessly inject toxic chemicals into yourself.

  • Do you mean willingly or forcefully?
    – Al Berko
    Sep 21, 2018 at 6:52
  • Why go so far, every vaccine does the same! You inject some deadly stuff in presumably undeadly amount with the only intention to immune the system and extend one's or other's lives. Some really die of vaccines, unfortunately. How about operations? Is one allowed to undergo a surgical operation to extend his life (say, on heart) even though there's always a chance he'll not survive? I think the answer is self-evident.
    – Al Berko
    Sep 21, 2018 at 6:56
  • 1
    @AlBerko, this may be off topic, but vaccines are not small amount of 'deadly stuff' that's supposedly not deadly enough to kill anyone. Vaccines are a modified or dead version of a pathogen that is not capable of harm, however is similar enough to the real deal that the body's antibody response will attack the original disease too.
    – Rafael
    Sep 21, 2018 at 15:13
  • @AlBerko, to answer your first question, the case is certainly only willfully. I'm not how there would be a question would be if the Jew was forced into this experiment against his will. As for you're second comment, injecting radioactive chemicals into yourself is not a means of extending you're life (don't comment about chemo!) in general and certainly not in this case. The chemicals in question are quite deadly, and could indeed kill someone, but the subjects' illnesses is expected to finish them off first.
    – Rafael
    Sep 21, 2018 at 15:21
  • I think you forgot to specify the purpose of the experiment. You explained what it did but not exactly what the objective was - to save others' lives, to make a scientific breakthrough, they were bored etc? You said is not a means of extending your life, however, you accepted the answer that says " if it has the potential to extend it."
    – Al Berko
    Sep 22, 2018 at 21:04

1 Answer 1


Judaism values life very highly. Any experiment that would potentially shorten life without a chance to extend it would be prohibited. It is not clear from your question whether the experiment would possibly save the patient life or other patient lives and I will assume for now it does not.

R Abraham S. Abraham (in Nishmat Avraham vol. 2, p. 54ff) provides many halachic opinions (e.g., Gilyon Maharsha, Shevut Yaakov, Achiezer, R Shlomo Zalman Auerbach) that it is permitted to take a treatment that would possibly endanger one's life if it has the potential to extend it. One is permitted to endanger chayei sha'ah (the short time to live untreated) for the sake of chayei olam (his full life span), after consultation with multiple doctors and halachic authorities.

However in your case, it doesn't look like the radioactive chemical experiment is designed to save lives, and certainly not the one of patient to be experimented on. Based on this, I don't see how it could be permitted.

Add-on: I have now seen that Fred Rosner (a well-known specialist in Jewish medical ethics) and R Moshe David Tendler (a Rosh Yeshiva at YU and son-in-law of R Moshe Feinstein) wrote (Practical medical halacha, p. 90)

Jewish law is categorically opposed to any form of experimentation in which the human organism serves as an experimental animal, if there is the slightest hazard to the individual taking part in the experiment, without concomitant benefit to the same individual. Even the informed voluntary consent on an individual does not suffice to permit the physician to subject him to possibly hazardous medical procedures.

  • Part of the question is that the experiment is unlikely to endanger the patient's life, because he is likely to die much earlier due to his disease, not from the radioactive chemical.
    – Rafael
    Sep 20, 2018 at 14:43
  • @Rafael When it comes to life, do we ever rely on a "likely"?
    – ezra
    Sep 20, 2018 at 14:47
  • @Rafael right, so the answer is that one cannot inject chemicals into someone who are unlikely to endanger his life (unlikely meaning it is possible they would) unless there are clear benefits to prolong his life. One could if they were certain not to endanger his life as judged by multiple doctors
    – mbloch
    Sep 20, 2018 at 14:48
  • @ezra, In some cases, we do. I can't find the source off-hand, but I know of a question in the book What If of a person who got critically sick on a plane. A doctor on the plane was treating him, and was able to stabilize the patient. The pilot asked the doctor if he should make an emergency landing which would be of great discomfort to everyone on the plane. The answer to the question was that if there is only a small chance (>5%) that the patient will relapse, He does not have to land the plane.
    – Rafael
    Sep 20, 2018 at 14:52
  • @Rafael but the patient was stable with a doctor attending to his needs. This is different from injecting chemicals that "very likely won't kill you but might" :->
    – mbloch
    Sep 20, 2018 at 14:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .