Field of Science

Shock as Bronze-age ethics intrude on 21st century medical care

Medical advances frequently bring with them ethical challenges. Life-support, which these days brings with it the possibility of keeping a body alive for decades after the brain has permanently died, creates a particularly thorny one. How, exactly, can brain-death be defined and diagnosed? What about quality of life? And who has the final say in the decision to switch off life support? These cases keep ethicists and philosophers awake at nights.

Meanwhile, in deepest, darkest Canada (Mannitoba, to be precise), the issues are much simpler for the adherents of one bronze-age cult. The Canadian Jewish News reports on the case of Samuel Golubchuk, an 84-year old man with minimal brain function and no hope of recovery:

In a court affidavit, Rabbi Y. Charytan, a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi who works for Jewish Child and Family Services here and has known Samuel Golubchuk for several years, said that Orthodox Jews believe “life must be extended as long as possible and we are not allowed to hasten death.”

Rabbi Charytan said he told hospital officials that “it is a sin and not acceptable” for them to remove life support from Golubchuk.

So, according to Jewish law, developed in a time when modern life support was not even a twinkle in doctors' eyes, we are to fill our hospitals with living corpses. Not only that, but we are being asked to turn our physicians into torturers, in the words of the philosopher Peter Singer:

Doctors and nurses feel they are being turned into torturers, forced to inflict painful procedures on patients who have no hope of recovery. They feel that they are violating their professional ethics, including the precept: "First, do no harm." For example, a nurse said she was appalled by Mr. Golubchuk's condition. He was retaining 45 litres of water, and his skin was swollen to the point of bursting. According to the nurse, "he was rotting from the inside out."
Don't these people have any compassion?


  1. I suppose it's too much to ask a "humanist" to respect the ethics of others? Surely yours are superior to all other value systems. Idiot.

  2. Anonymous, ethics are not a matter of opinion or a person's so-called values. Believe whatever you want, it doesn't make it so. If you want to make a legitimate and well-argued case for your views, go ahead.

    But if you want, by sheer force of willpower, to pretend a rotting corpse is alive and insist that society pay to keep it that way, you need a reality check.

  3. Anonymous, I have a lot of respect for the ethics of others when they are carefully thought through and have at least some logical coherency. But unquestioningly trying to shoehorn into the modern world a code of ethics written by a different people long ago for different circumstances - it's insane! As this case shows, it's clearly not a good way to develop a coherent moral system. The people who wrote the Torah had no concept of brain death or life support. Trying to use their pontifications as a basis for decision making in this case is so silly that no sane person would even try it - if they weren't suffering from the god delusion.


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