Last night I received a call from a health care professional who works in a different state.

The individual was informing me that they were appointed to the ethics committee of their state’s commission of medical ethics. The caller explained to me that part of the ethics committee’s duties was to decide who will receive the precious few ventilators which are available and who will be allowed to die. As the number of coronavirus cases increases, the demand for ventilators far exceeds the actual amount of ventilators in the hospital.

The petitioner was asking me, “What is the Jewish view on this topic? How do I decide “who shall live and who shall not…”? I shuddered upon hearing this question. I certainly was not going to take upon myself the responsibility of deciding such an issue. At this point, the caller began to cry, “Rabbi, how can I sit on a panel that’s going to make an ethical determination of who gets the last ventilator, and who doesn’t?”

I paused for a moment as my thoughts went back to the haunting words of the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel. Wiesel describes in too vivid detail his struggles as he attempts to keep his father alive while simultaneously realizing that his father may be his most enormous burden and a hindrance to his own survival.

In the immortal words of Wiesel:

WHEN I WOKE UP, it was daylight. That is when I remembered that I had a father. During the alert, I had followed the mob, not taking care of him. I knew he was running out of strength, close to death, and yet I had abandoned him. I went to look for him.

Yet at the same time a thought crept into my mind: If only I didn’t find him! If only I were relieved of this responsibility, I could use all my strength to fight for my own survival, to take care only of myself… Instantly, I felt ashamed, ashamed of myself forever.

How could I even consider the caller’s question? How could I possibly live with the eternal shame? After I pressed the red button on my phone, I dissolved into a pool of tears. Is this the situation we find ourselves? Do we have to decide who will live and who will die?

May Hashem heal our wounds.


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