- Negligence & Culpability
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Reader: It
has been a long time since I wrote. I hope you and yours are
well. A question: a child was diagnosed with an immune disease
that eventually killed the child. In hindsight one of the attending
physicians noticed that the original team of doctors had overlooked
something in the early reports that MAY have made a difference
in the youngster's life. Now that particular professional is
ridden with guilty feelings. I would like something halachic
to put in his hands to help free him from this emotional and
spiritual burden. Thank you, Ed.
- Mesora: Ed, I hope all is well. Please inform the original
doctor/team, that there should be no guilt for evil "results"
if our actions were guided as best as humanly possible. We have
little control over the innumerable variables in any situation.
One of these variables is our limited knowledge. If action was
required to save the child, and all the knowledge available was
used, then the doctor should feel equal, to when saving someone.
Talmud Berachos, first Mishna in chapter 9 says we must praise
God for evil, just as we must do for the good. This means according
to a Rabbi's interpretation, that we must accept reality, regardless
of our emotional reactions to that reality, be it elation, or
disappointment. So too here. The doctor must feel satisfied that
he employed his best knowledge, and the results must not detract
from his well intended actions. This is the point, to focus on
what IS our responsibility, i.e., actions, NOT results, which
are not necessarily in our control.
- If however, one has overlooked something
due to an error of not checking all charts, carelessly deviating
from standard protocol, etc., the there is guilt here, as the
physician was negligent regarding human life. He must search
himself for a cause of this negligence in connection with human
life, a grave sin. He must analyze himself, recognize his error,
his destruction of human life, and with his regret, commit to
absolute, careful behavior to guard against such a sin. He must
ask God for forgiveness. God forgives those who sincerely regret
their sins, and are 100% committed to removing such a character
- The Torah teaches of one who kills "accidentally".
If it was accident, why is there a "City of Refuge"
as part of the Torah system, to collect and protect accidental
killers from irate relatives? Why does the accidental killer
go free with the death of the High priest? What is the connection
to this High Priest?
- Accidental killers are not so guiltless.
Had they been 100% careful not to harm human life, thy would
not have killed. It is due to ignorance that an archer, for example,
fires his arrow on a person, and not on an animal. Had the archer
realized he was not 100% certain whether he aims at a deer or
"someone else", he would not have let his arrow fly.
There is no excuse for "accidental" murder. This is
the Torah's principle. It is based on truth. The archer was careless,
just as careless as one ascending a ladder falls on one below
him, or a doctor who injects too much medication, or cuts too
close to an artery. When human life is at risk, we must be 100%
certain we do not endanger another. If this precaution is taken,
no one will kill accidentally, ever.
- Why is the killer freed with the death
of the High Priest? A Rabbi once gave a remarkable answer: the
killer knows his freedom depends on the Priest's death. It is
almost certain that this killer will wish for the Priest's death.
This wish will hopefully awaken the killer to his disregard for
human life. Hopefully, he will thereby recognize it is this very
disregard that caused his predicament. Forcing a killer to realize
his neglect for life is the first step towards repentance, and
this is God's wish for all mankind. He wishes we recognize our
errors, feel regret, and commit to a change in our values so
as never to return to our evil ways. An ingenious answer.
- Knowledge of human psychology is essential
for an appreciation of Torah laws.