CCAR RESPONSA

Contemporary American Reform Responsa

81. Huntington's Disease and Suicide*

QUESTION: I am writing about a young woman who has been definitely diagnosed as having Huntington's Disease (sometimes called Huntington's Chorea). It is a genetic disease which is incurable and results in inevitable, severe neurological deterioration causing loss of mental and physical facilities. She has told me that she is contemplating taking her own life when she feels that the disease will rob her of control over her own life and before she deteriorates completely. She asks what would be the Jewish response to her decision? (Rabbi J. Miller, Rochester, NY)

ANSWER: All of the material relevant to this question has been presented in previous responsa directed toward slightly different questions; the answers were provided by Israel Bettan, Solomon B. Freehof, and Walter Jacob (American Reform Responsa #76 ff). In each instance, the writer of the responsum felt that despite the severe problems involved, euthanasia could not be encouraged. This would be equally true of suicide here.

The path of this disease is clearly known and the degenerative affects are terrible, both for the individual involved and those dear to her. Although we can empathize with her wish to commit suicide, it would be difficult for us to approve of this act as Judaism has and continues to object strongly to suicide. The problems which arise under slightly different conditions with other diseases or other circumstances do not make it possible for us to assent to her wish, but we understand it.

June 1983

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