Editor's Note: These two essays deal with separate but
interrelated issues of the basic value of human life and how
it is perceived by modern society. The Torah, of course, has
a very different approach, and it constantly behooves us to
clarify and recall this for ourselves, since the modern world
is often so decadent in this important value.
The Remarkable Comeback of a Dead
by Chaim Bloom
Until slightly more than a year ago, Bill Morgan was no
different than any other resident of Australia, his
birthplace. He worked hard for his living as a truck driver
and was happy when he managed to finish the month without an
But then his truck became involved in an accident. As Bill
was seated in the driver's cabin, an oncoming car smashed
into him. He was crushed. As a result of the horrible
accident, Bill suffered a fatal heart attack.
The injury was so severe that the ambulance crew arriving on
the scene was certain that there was nothing left for them to
do. Nonetheless, they attached him to their resuscitation
apparatus and tried to stimulate his heart. For more than 14
minutes, Bill was in a situation defined as "clinical death."
When his heart began to beat again, he was rushed to the
hospital, where he remained in a coma for 12 days.
After that, and despite his serious injury, Bill's condition
improved -- amazingly. Not only did he recover quickly, but
despite the extreme state he had reached, he got up from his
sick bed completely recovered and totally healthy, a very
After 12 months, during which he returned to work as usual,
Bill decided that it was time for him to marry. Despite the
grisly accident, the young lady of his choice was willing to
marry him. The only question was: how would they manage
A few days before the wedding, Bill Morgan bought a lottery
ticket. "Who knows?" he told himself. "Perhaps I'll win."
And he won! He got a very considerable prize: a car worth 17
At that point, the media stepped into the picture. A truck
driver who had been severely hurt in an accident, had
suffered a very serious heart attack, had returned to life,
and was about to be married -- had also won a very big prize
in the lottery. That's an automatic human interest story for
an empty corner of the newspaper. The press sought him out
and asked him for details about the remarkable chain of
events he had undergone.
In order to increase public interest in the story, a
Melbourne TV station asked Bill to re-enact the moments in
which he had purchased the winning lottery ticket.
Goodhearted Bill readily complied. Before the cameras, he
approached the stand, bought a ticket, and examined it, just
like he had when he had bought his original winning ticket.
Believe it or not -- he won again! Right before the
television cameras. But this time, the grand prize wasn't a
car but a quarter of a million Australian dollars, equivalent
to about 170 thousand American dollars: ten times as much as
his former prize. The first time, Bill had won a car. Now, he
had enough money to buy a house for himself and his future
It's not always easy to stand at the side and rejoice in the
good fortune of someone else. But this time, even the
reporters were pleased. This double win, especially after the
serious medical problems Bill had undergone, constituted a
very juicy story for the viewers, who are always eager for
amazing and heartwarming stories.
So why does such a story come to Yated
Ne'eman? Because of an additional "small" detail, which
we haven't yet mentioned.
While Bill Morgan was lying in the hospital in a coma those
first 12 days, surrounded by his broken-hearted relatives,
one of the senior doctors turned to them and gently
explained: "His situation is critical. The likelihood that
he'll recover is zero. In the meantime, the patient is alive
only because of the life-support apparatus that is running
the systems of his body. Even if he recovers, he'll probably
be an unfortunate cripple, who will say that it would have
been better if he had died. Isn't it preferable for his
beloved family to permit the hospital to detach him from the
apparatus? Anyway, he'll probably die within a short while.
And if he remains alive, as a cripple dependent on the
mercies of others, will you be able to look him in the eye
and explain why you didn't arrange for him to be detached
from the apparatus before he awoke? Isn't it better to save
money and hospital resources and to make this costly
apparatus available for other patients who might need it?"
We weren't present at that occasion and didn't hear the
doctor's exact explanation. We can only speculate on the
exact words of the doctor -- carefully chosen phrases
characteristic of professionals of that sort the world over --
just as we can only picture the expressions of the frightened
family when they heard his remarks. It's not difficult to
imagine their shock over the accident and then their
happiness over Bill's remarkable comeback after he had been
considered clinically dead for 14 long minutes. One can only
imagine their despair upon hearing the medical explanation
and the recommendation to murder him -- pardon me -- which in
medical terminology is referred to as "mercy killing."
We also don't know why the family refused the hospital's
"generous" offer, nor precisely what persuaded them to insist
on continuing to take care of Bill, even though the doctor
had given him no chance of pulling through.
We only know that they did the right thing and all of
Australia agrees with us, mainly because of the spectacular
double prize that he eventually won in the lottery.
Had Bill not won the lottery twice, would the Australians
still have nodded their heads and said: "It's good that they
didn't detach him from the life-support apparatus"?
And now to the biggest question of all: Will anyone in
Australia -- or anywhere in the world or even someone from
the medical profession -- derive the correct conclusions from
this story, which is that life and death, and a person's
entire fate, for the good and for the bad, are in the hands
of Shomayim, and that doctors have permission to heal,
but not to kill?
Day of the Living Dead
by Rabbi Avi Shafran
Had it been cheap fiction instead of tragic real life, the
case of Georgette Smith would have strained credulity.
Shirley Egan, a frail, elderly woman, outraged by her
daughter Ms. Smith's plans to place her in a nursing home,
shoots the 42-year-old woman she raised from birth. As if
that weren't lurid enough, the daughter, paralyzed from the
neck down, later insists on being removed from life support
equipment and obtains a Florida court order to force the
reluctant hospital to comply with her wishes. The machines
are disconnected and the patient dies.
The coup de grace: it was subsequently reported that
prosecutors were weighing a murder charge against the
In the end, however, the Florida state attorney decided that
Ms. Egan's "deteriorating health, and her relationship with
the victim, do not provide an appropriate circumstance" for a
His decision was correct, but for chillingly wrong
Ms. Egan is innocent of murder not because of her health or
her relationship to her daughter, but because she didn't kill
There is a frightening, if subtle, statement in the
willingness to even consider murder charges against Ms.
Consider: Were an assailant to cause, say, loss of limb, and
the victim subsequently declared life not worth living
without the arm or a leg, forever maimed and unable to
function as most people do, and then proceeded to commit
suicide, can we imagine murder charges being brought against
One would hope not.
While punishing the attacker for the injury to the fullest
extent of the law, we would, however, rightfully put
responsibility for the death on the one who effected it, in
this case the deceased.
Why then, is it not just as obvious that Ms. Smith, who
likewise made the choice to die -- indeed obtained a judge's
imprimatur to secure it -- is alone responsible for her own
Granted, her mother assaulted her, grievously. But murder?
She horribly injured her daughter, but she did not kill her.
Or did she?
Is relegating a physically active human being to a life of
paralysis, of boredom and dependency on others, the
equivalent of the termination of meaningful life itself?
It is in the moment's hesitation before that question is
answered that the danger to us all lurks. Because the answer
is no, and it should come swift and strong.
Life is not jumping or running or climbing, at least not for
human beings. It is not even walking or being able to lift
one's hand, important though mobility and dexterity may be to
most of us. Our most meaningful living is done in our minds
and our souls.
There is a gentleman, now of Jerusalem who, like Ms. Smith,
is paralyzed from neck down. The injury that resulted in his
condition was suffered in a freak swimming accident; he had
been a promising athlete before the day, many years ago, when
a diver landed on his back.
His first thoughts, like those of Ms. Smith, had been plans
for suicide. But he had been less able to accomplish the
deed. Though he begged those close to him to help him end his
life, they refused. Court assistance likely never crossed his
mind. Decades ago, in any event, it would not likely have
Today, though, the swimmer has not only come to terms with
his condition but actually considers his accident to have
been the most fortunate occurrence in his life.
He explains that, after his initial anger and hopelessness
subsided, his paralysis forced him to confront, deeply and
seriously, the question of whether athletic prowess, or even
basic mobility, had defined the very meaning of his pre-
After many days of contemplating that question, in anything
but a theoretical sense, he found himself forced to concede
that a life defined by physical activity was a rather silly
What then was life really about?
His further thought -- and consultation, and study -- led him
to the traditions of the Jewish faith into which he had been
His paralysis, he feels, was a well-disguised gift. He is
chilled by the thought that a well-meaning relative or friend
might have successfully helped him effect his demise years
ago, in the first days of his new life.
It is too late for Ms. Smith to acclimate to a new life, of
course, she received the "help" she sought all too promptly
and efficiently. But her dismissal of the value of a
physically limited life was only a tragic personal
If her mother, though, is perceived by the law and the
society it serves as guilty of something more than attempted
murder, as having effectively ended a human life, then we are
well on the way toward missing the most essential meaning of