Judaism and Suicide

Judaism sees life as a gift from God — maybe not the gift you were hoping for, but a gift nonetheless. Therefore, Jews are generally opposed to anyone taking life, whether it’s someone else’s or their own.

Suicide is considered disrespectful not only of a living being, but also of God, so Judaism has harsh rules against honoring someone who has willingly committed suicide: They can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery, mourning (including saying mourning prayers) isn’t traditionally allowed, and sometimes family members feel shame in the community.

That said, many rabbis, today and over the centuries, have gone to great lengths to show that suicide victims were mentally disturbed at the time of that act, so almost all Jewish suicides are buried in Jewish cemeteries.

Similarly, Jewish organizations are uniformly against physician-assisted suicide. On the other hand, many Jews recognize a gray area: If someone is terminally ill and in great discomfort, Judaism generally allows that they can refuse additional “unnecessary” medical treatment. That is, if someone is clearly going to die anyway, and treatment would simply prolong an unpleasant life for a short time, then the treatment isn’t considered “healing.”

Along these same lines, most Jewish authorities allow do not resuscitate (DNR) instructions. Terminal illness poses an obviously a tricky situation, and one that is probably best discussed with a rabbi.

It’s encouraged to prepare a living will, or an advance directive, which stipulates what should be done in case you’re in a coma and probably couldn’t survive without life support. This can supplement any of the legal documents that you may wish to prepare to serve as guidelines for those who may have to make very difficult decisions.

Communicating your wishes to your friends and family is a great kindness and is seen as a mitzvah (a path that brings people closer to God).

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