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Virtual Talmud

As with most science, medical technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Our charge is to use such technology for good and not ill. The problem, of course, is that choosing a course that does “good” and not “ill” is not always clear.

Take for example the recent report that Seattle doctors treated a severely disabled six year old with estrogen therapy to stunt her growth. This will make it easier for her to be cared for longer by her parents in her own home where she can be included lovingly as part of her family. That is a good thing. But is it “ill” to mess with Mother Nature?

As Jews, we believe our bodies belong to God. We are thus obligated not to wound ourselves or others. Concurrently we are also obligated to heal ourselves and others. Our rabbinic sages understood that this sometimes entails wounding in order to heal. The classic example they give is amputating a limb to save someone’s life. Is the case of this young girl similar?

In complicated cases, like the one above, Jewish law has preferred to deal with such questions on a case by case basis to allow the particular conditions of the case to be considered. If a rabbi had been consulted, he or she may have asked some of the following questions: What is the effect of this therapy on the girl’s mental development? If it stunted her mental development, that would be an ancillary form of wounding that would make it difficult to justify the therapy. Does the therapy really make it more likely that the girl will have a better and longer quality of life (possibly a legitimate reason for the therapy) or will it just make it easier for the parents (not a legitimate reason for the therapy under Jewish law)?

While we must always be wary of the slippery slope, and while we also must be wary of protecting the value of all life as God gave it, there are times when we can utilize the gifts God has granted us to use our world to do good. If this therapy does help this young girl and not only her parents, and if it does her no other harm than keep her small, I can understand, and approve, of what these Seattle doctors did in their own efforts to do good and not harm.

— Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

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