Rabbis and Doctors in Life and Death

It’s been quite a Nissan for me. My son came home for Pesach from Eretz Yisroel, my father passed away after a long bout with cancer, we spent a wonderful Pesach with all our children by us for the seder, and my daughter gave birth to our first grandson. Besides the emotional whirlwind, the experience gave me a deeper appreciation of the importance of good Rabbis and good doctors.

During my father’s illness, we had to battle the medical system which wanted to brand my father a no-more-treatment hospice patient, while his wishes were to have any relatively benign treatments that would prolong his life. While lamenting about my battles during the shiva, a good doctor friend explained that there are many treatment and non-treatment options available, but you need a good personal doctor to apply the right treatment for each patients particular needs and situation. It’s usually not a simple decision, despite the apparent confidence of the medical staff.

My daughter’s 48 hour birthing experience highlighted the variety of medical intervention available at many stages in the birthing process. The mother with the help of her support people has to navigate decisions balancing pain, comfort, risk and the dictates of medical procedures. Although medicine strives for repeatable “successful” processes, the reality is that each birth presents a unique situation for this mother, with this baby and the particulars of this birth.

My Rabbi had by far the hardest role during these events. The life and death treatment decisions are agonizing and it’s usually not a case of clear cut halacha, but rather hadracha. Burials and shivas are filled with almost daily questions. Birthing over Shabbos has its own set of issues. And a good Rabbi is there for advice, support, comfort and friendship 24 hours a day.

It’s important to find yourself a good primary care physician. It’s even more important to find a good Rabbi who is there for you when you need him.