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Legalizing Drugs

 

Legalizing drugs… for medical use, of course.

R. J. David Bleich, Judaism and Healing: Halakhic Perspectives (2002 edition) pp. 178-179:

[E]verything possible should be done to alleviate the patient’s suffering. This includes aggressive treatment of pain even to a degree which at present is not common in medical practice. Physicians are reluctant to use morphine in high dosages because of the danger of depression of the cerebral center responsible for respiration. The effect of such medications is that the patient cannot control the muscles necessary for breathing. However, as has been discussed in the preceding chapter, there is no halakhic objection to providing such medication in order to control pain in the case of terminal patients and maintaining such patients on a respirator. Similarly, there is no halakhic objection to the use of heroin in the control of pain in terminal patients. The danger of addiction under such circumstances is, of course, hardly a significant consideration. At present, the use of heroin is illegal even for medical purposes. Judaism firmly believes that everything in creation is designed for a purpose. Alleviation of otherwise intractable pain is a known beneficial use of heroin. Marijuana is effective in alleviating nausea which is a side-effect of some forms of chemotherapy. There is every reason to believe that these drugs were given to man for the specific purpose of controlling pain and discomfort. Jewish teaching would enthusiastically endorse legislation legalizing the use–with adequate accompanying safeguards–of these substances in the treatment of terminal patients.

(Reposted from here)

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
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35 Responses

  1. Shlomo says:

    The conclusion here is absolutely obvious (except for the possibility that people will obtain medically-indicated drugs and use them for other purposes, but that’s a question of metziut, not din).

    I’m much more interested in the question of recreational use. What exactly is, or isn’t, halachically wrong with it?

  2. joel rich says:

    r’ shlomo,
    iirc we’ve previously discussed here r’ moshe’s marijuana tshuva -

    17 שו”ת אגרות משה יורה דעה ח”ג סימן לה
    איסור עישון סמים בע”ה. ב’ דר”ח אייר תשל”ג. מע”כ מוה”ר ירוחם פראם שליט”א.
    הנה בדבר אשר התחילו איזה בחורים מהישיבה לעשן חשיש (מעראוואנא), פשוט שהוא דבר אסור מכמה עיקרי דינים שבתורה חדא שהוא מקלקל ומכלה את הגוף, ואף אם נמצאו אנשים בריאים שלא מזיק להם כל כך אבל מקלקל הוא את הדעת ואינם יכולים להבין דבר לאשורו שזה עוד יותר חמור שלבד שמונע עצמו מלמוד התורה כראוי הוא מניעה גם מתפלה וממצות התורה שעשיה בלא דעת הראוי הוא כלא קיימם. ועוד שהוא גורם תאוה גדולה אשר הוא יותר מתאות אכילה וכדומה הצריכים להאדם לחיותו ויש שלא יוכלו לצמצם ולהעביר תאותם, והוא איסור החמור שנאמר בבן סורר ומורה על תאוה היותר גדולה שיש לו לאכילה אף שהוא לאכילת כשרות, וכ”ש שאסור להביא עצמו לתאוה גדולה עוד יותר ולדבר שליכא שום צורך להאדם בזה שהוא אסור, ואף שלמלקות נימא שאין עונשין מן הדין מ”מ לאיסורא ודאי עובר על לאו זה ואיכא גם הטעם דאיכא בבן סורר ומורה שסופו שילסטם את הבריות כדאיתא בסנהדרין בפ’ בן סורר (ס”ח ע”ב). ועוד שהאב והאם של אלו שמעשנין זה מצטערים מאד אשר עוברין על מצות כבוד אב ואם. ועוד איכא איסור העשה דקדושים תהיו כפירוש הרמב”ן בחומש. וגם הם גורמים לאיסורים הרבה אחרים לבד זה, סוף דבר הוא פשוט וברור שהוא מאיסורים חמורים וצריך להשתדל בכל היכולת להעביר טומאה זו מכל בני ישראל ובפרט מאלו שלומדין בישיבות. והנני ידידו מוקירו, משה פיינשטיין.

    I wonder about R’ bleich’s public policy tradeoff -do we allow individuals to suffer for the greater good (e.g. concern of rampant misuse once the door to medical use is open)
    KT

  3. Shlomo says:

    I don’t remember the details of that discussion, but this particular teshuva does not seem like the final word on the matter. Many of his arguments are dubious in terms of metziut. Others are deserving of further debate halachically/hashkafically.

  4. Shlomo says:

    More specifically:

    1) Hurts the body. Not a concern for certain forms of marijuana used judiciously.
    2) You can’t perform mitzvot while high. Equally an argument to be used against drinking, yet it is generally not considered a conclusive argument.
    3) It causes “great desire” (?). If this means addiction, marijuana is not addictive. And I don’t understand how the extrapolation from ben sorer umoreh is halachically valid.
    4) It makes the parents unhappy, violating kivud av veem. It is well established that kivud av veem does not mean they have veto power over every decision of yours, for example, if you want to marry someone they dislike. Anyway, parents these days may be more positive toward marijuana use.
    5) Kedoshim tihyu. It is not so simple to decide in which situations we are required to be ascetic and which not.

  5. Shalom Rosenfeld says:

    R’ Zilbershtein asked R’ Elyashiv about the terminally ill patient who’d rather spend his last days without pain, anything from marijuana to even on an LSD trip. R’ Elyashiv said of course, alleviate pain. What if they won’t have the right consciousness to recite final vidui/shema? Not our concern, our job is alleviating suffering. R’ Zilbershtein raised two additional concerns, namely a.) the drug supply may get to non-ill users too (as discussed above). b.) there is the danger that the hospital will “dope up” a patient to keep him quiet and happy, when what the patient really needed was some different medical care.

    R’ Elyashiv, k’darko bakodesh, didn’t care about either of these concerns. But I’d be curious how a RMF or RSZA would balance them out.

  6. Jerry says:

    Any small nail in the coffin of the misguided, destructive and highly unsuccessful War on Drugs is appreciated.

  7. joel rich says:

    R’ Shlomo,
    you’re preaching to the converted, at the time I assumed R’MF had reached a lev shel torah conclusion and then sought sources to back it up for those who wouldn’t just take his word for it. Suffice it to say that there were those who were caught up in the sex,drugs rock and roll lifestyle who could have made better use of their time.

    R’SR-why no care for these concerns? Is the view that meta halacha is strictly the sum of micro? That certainly was not the case historically.

    KT

  8. Shalom Rosenfeld says:

    R’ Asher Weiss is posek for Shaarei Tzedek IIRC — has he discussed the issue? He often has a novel perspective, I’d be curious to hear his take.

    RJ”R,

    Presumably R’ Elyashiv felt “the need for pain relief overrides these concerns”; but in general, I get the feeling that R’ Elyashiv’s halachic style tends to be one … untempered by other considerations.

  9. Y says:

    Amen, Jerry. While illegal drugs are all extremely harmful and no one should use them (unless absolutely necessary medically), putting people in prison for possessing or selling them has been a huge disaster. Blacks and whites do drugs at the same rates (whites are even the vast majority of crack users, according to federal government statistics), but blacks are arrested and imprisoned at much higher rates. Every other Western democratic country (even Israel) has a small fraction of our overall incarceration rate, and this is due to a large extent to our crazy policy on drugs.

    One important reason not to use marijuana recreationally is that it very commonly causes short- and long-term anxiety problems. Everyone who has smoked pot knows that users often “feel paranoid” — that is, irrationally anxious. Many develop panic attacks, which continue occurring despite stopping the drug (substance-induced anxiety disorder). Anxiety, of course, is at odds with the Jewish values of joy and serenity.

  10. Skeptic says:

    Where does R’ Zilbershtein write about this?

  11. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry-if a family membe had become a drug addict or committed a crime in the furtherance of his or her habit, would you have the same POV re the War on Drugs?

  12. Shalom Rosenfeld says:

    Skeptic,

    Heard it here. Afraid I’m not super-familiar with R’ Zilbershtein’s writings.

    http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/739705/Rabbi_Reuven_Brand/The_Maine_Referendum:_Medical_Marijuana

  13. Jerry says:

    “Jerry-if a family membe had become a drug addict or committed a crime in the furtherance of his or her habit, would you have the same POV re the War on Drugs?”

    Tragically that is not a hypothetical for me (not that it’s really any of your business). Actually that is one of the reasons WHY I have this particular point of view on the War on Drugs. Obviously if you’re a libertarian, but even if you’re a liberal or a conservative there is every reason in the world to oppose the War on Drugs. If William F. Buckley could look at the facts and conclude that the War on Drugs is a massive, horrendous, counterproductive failure, then so can you.

    I really don’t want to get sidetracked here because I know this is supposed to be a forum to discuss R. Bleich’s specific arguments re: the Torah view of this issue.

  14. Mair Zvi says:

    An interesting tangent to the subject:
    The Rastafarian Movement-which some consider a Religion originating in Jamaica- considers smoking marijuana to be a religious sacrament.
    This G-d given herb is smoked as a mind-expanding experience which facilitates communion(d’veikus?)with G-d.
    Interestingly the Torah- Bereishis 1:11- specifically mentions seed-producing vegetation AND herb. This double loshon is considered by Rastas as significant and a hidden reference to marijuana. They further believe marijuana to be a component of Ketores.
    Interesting to note that at Mattan Torah and when the Kohen Godol entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, the experiences were accompanied by thick smoke. Perhaps also when HaShem “appeared” to Moshe at the sneh. Relevant or foolishness?
    For further information on “Rastafarianism” check it out on Wikipedia. Shabbat sholom to all.

  15. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Steve: Surely, as a distinguished lawyer you know not to ask a leading question of someone if you are not sure of the answer! In any event, your question has about as much validity as the comment of IH to Tal that he would have different view on homosexual marriages if a member of his family was a homosexual.

    By the way, what do you think of Rav Bleich’s position? As for me, I am happy that I can so unambiguously agree with Rav Bleich for a change!

  16. Jon Baker says:

    Steve: if a family member had been killed by a black man, would you consider it right and proper to be hateful and mistrustful towards shvartzers?

    Your question is like the one that sank Michael Dukakis, to which he should have replied – it doesn’t matter what my personal feelings are, that’s why we have laws.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry wrote in response to my query:

    “Tragically that is not a hypothetical for me (not that it’s really any of your business). Actually that is one of the reasons WHY I have this particular point of view on the War on Drugs. Obviously if you’re a libertarian, but even if you’re a liberal or a conservative there is every reason in the world to oppose the War on Drugs. If William F. Buckley could look at the facts and conclude that the War on Drugs is a massive, horrendous, counterproductive failure, then so can you.”

    I think that the havoc that drug use and abuse can have anyone and society at large cannot be divorced from the issue under discussion. While WFB was one of the fathers of the resurgence of conservatism after WW2, not all of his positions nor those of his liberal opponents are sacrosanct.

  18. Steve Brizel says:

    I think that one cannot divorce drug use and abuse from the crime, often violent, and other socially irresponsible conduct such as automobile accidents that are caused by persons under the influence of illegal drugs. I tend to doubt that the crime rate or frequency of the same would radically decrease if drugs were legalized.

  19. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan-R Bleich endorses the legalization of such the above mentioned drugs under medical supervision, as opposed to the recreational use of the same.

    For those interested, in R Asher Weiss’s Minchas Asher, Parshas Bchukosai, R Asher Weiss discusses when one can resort to alternative medicine ( only after one has exhausted all conventional treatments) and the halachic implications involved therein re many Halachic areas.

  20. Steve Brizel says:

    Jon Baker asked:

    “Steve: if a family member had been killed by a black man, would you consider it right and proper to be hateful and mistrustful towards shvartzers”

    Regardless of the race, religion, etnic background or sexual orientation, I would certainly insist that such a perpetrator of a horrendous crime be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Your query ignores the well documented reality that most inner city crimes are committed by members of minority groups upon each other.

  21. emma says:

    “I think that one cannot divorce drug alcohol use and abuse from the crime, often violent, and other socially irresponsible conduct such as automobile accidents that are caused by persons under the influence of illegal drugs alcohol. ”

    Congratulations, you have just made an argument for the criminalization of alcohol. I’m sure you are also aware that, despite this compelling argument, there are also good arguments for alcohol decriminalization – arguments that in fact carried the day circa 1933.

  22. emma says:

    to the original post, i agree that it should be obvious that currently illegal drugs should be legal at least for medical indications. given their current illegality, what would r. bleich say, halachically, to a patient who wants to use a drug to treat pain or other symptoms that are not responding to conventional treatment?

  23. Jerry says:

    Steve, as William F. Buckley himself was forced to admit (eloquently, as always), the amount of violence, death and crime that results directly from drug prohibition is FAR, FAR GREATER than that which drug prohibition is designed to forestall.

  24. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Not to mention so many people (largely Black and Hispanic) whose only crime was possesioon of a small amount of Marijuna going to jail. I believe that people will look back in a few decades with shame at our current prison culture and our prosecutors completely out of control.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    Larry Kaplan-I think that your last post ignores the reality of who is involved primarily in the street sale of drugs. Would you raise the same objections to who is serving time for convictions or pleas for white collar crime?

  26. Steve Brizel says:

    The proposal of legalization of what we were told in law school were merely “victimless crimes” requires comparison to societies that have already tried it. Look at it this way-when a heroin addict neither can obtain methadone nor is satisfied with the high from the methadone, the addict will do whatever it takes to obtain the real McCoy. His or her choices in life will determine whether he or she can make something out of their life, or graduate to different levels of the correctional system.

    Likewise, an addict to alcohol or gambling , unless he or she lives, breathes and drinks AA,and avoids the same like the proverbial plague, remains an addict, simply because his or her next binge is only a bottle or a trip away from the nearest poker game , AC, Foxwood or Vegas. Do we want a society that encourages such conduct as a socially acceptable way of life and the means necessary to preserve the same?

  27. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Steve: No one is saying that drug addiction is good and should be encouraged, just as no one is saying that alcohol and gambling addiction are good and should be encouraged. But neither alcohol nor gambling are illegal (they ar regulated, which is something else); so why should drugs be? Prohibition, the attempt to ban alcohol, proved to be a failure, as has the “War on Drugs.” In both cases the refuah has proved to be much worse than the makkah. It is ironic that William Bennet, the author of the Book of Virtues and the “Drug Czar,” turned out to be a gambling addict.

  28. aiwac says:

    Steven,

    You need to measure the danger of increased drug addiction against the tens of thousands killed or victimized south of the border by drug lords and gangs:

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/06/04/who-will-check-los-zetas-spread/

  29. Jerry says:

    Steve, without the War on Drugs, obtaining drugs to satisfy a habit would cost nearly nothing. The only reason it’s so expensive – with the horrific resulting drug violence – is because of the cartelized black market CREATED by the War on Drugs. I’m glad you’re so concerned with the health and safety of kids, but your proposed solutions are making the problem much, much worse than it would otherwise be (aside from Dr. Kaplan’s point about imposing a substantially unfair burden on minority communities).

  30. Steve Brizel says:

    Aiwac-or anyone else who favors legalization-assuming that the War on Drugs were ended today-would the events described in the linked Commentary article increase, decrease , or remain the same? More importantly, does anyone here seriously maintain that the Mexican drug cartels do not have terrorist connections in Islamic countries as well as Mob related connections in the US?

  31. Steve Brizel says:

    Jerry-the only unfair burden on minority communities is that most violent crimes in such communities are committed by one minority member against another-regardless of whether the same is drug related.

  32. aiwac says:

    “Aiwac-or anyone else who favors legalization-assuming that the War on Drugs were ended today-would the events described in the linked Commentary article increase, decrease , or remain the same?”

    Steven, do you seriously think they would not decrease, given they would lose most of their revenue from the drug black market, which would then go to pharma companies? Sure, they’d try other methods, but even crooks need to be paid, and without the drug revenue, they’d have no choice but to shrink substantially.

    “More importantly, does anyone here seriously maintain that the Mexican drug cartels do not have terrorist connections in Islamic countries as well as Mob related connections in the US?”

    All the more reason to destroy their revenue stream.

  33. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Steve: Even Mexico has recently decriminalized many drugs.

    I was referring to the unfair burden of imprisonment on minority groups not for violent crimes, but for drug possesion. More broadly, should rhe US be proud that its rate of incarceration is way ahead of every other country in the world and way off the charts? The War on Drugs, though not the only factor, has contributed to this disgrace. (See out of control prosecutors, draconian sentencing, seventeen year old black kids with their lives ahead of them being pressured to plea bargain on dubious and, as it turns out, false rape chrges and sent to jail for five years, Rubashkin’s 27 year sentence, Conrad Black, etc.)

 
 

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