Questions Pertaining to the Physicians’ License to Heal

 

Subject: Halachic definition of a physician
 

Question: Is a third or fourth year medical student (clinical clerk) considered a full-fledged physician for halachic purposes? What is the role of a medical student? What is the halachic definition of a physician?

 

Answer: A medical student has the same halachic coverage as the graduate physician.

Comment: Although the student has no legal responsibility for patient care and although he may not have adequate knowledge to exercise mature medical judgment, his aid is often necessary and nearly always beneficial. Time is saved by the senior physician because additional hands are available. The halacha does not distinguish between medical student, clinical clerk, in­tern, resident and attending physician, or even layman insofar as all contribute to the total patient care. The obligation to aid a dangerously ill patient falls not only on the graduate physician but on anyone able to and asked to render assistance. Included in this obligation are first and second year medical students and certainly third and fourth year students who possess considerable medical knowledge and are essential members of the diagnostic and therapeutic team.

The industrious and aggressive medical student may have access to medical literature and information which may be extremely recent and not clearly known to the senior physicians in attendance. The student may be able to devote many hours to an individual patient, thus making him the patient's "primary" doctor. The student's long and detailed history and physical examination may reveal facts and physical findings that might otherwise have been missed. The additional period of questioning may allow the patient to reflect and remember more important information not elicited by the other examiners. By performing many other required tasks, the student enables the physician to render better care to the patient.

For these reasons, a medical student has the same halachic coverage as the graduate physician, including laws pertaining to the Sabbath and Yom Tov.

(Source: Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:10)

This Halacha Bulletin was written by Fred Rosner, MD, FACP and Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, PhD and reviewed by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.

 


Subject: Kohen (priest) studying medicine

Question: May a kohen study medicine? What restrictions or permissive rulings, if any, are there regarding this question?

Answer: A kohen in the United States is prohibited from attending medical school.

Comment: Because of the requirement in the United States medical schools that students take anatomy and pathology courses, there is no way that a kohen can attend medical school. Even if the assumption is made that most if not all cadavers are non-Jewish, ritual defilement of a kohen still occurs upon contact with any dead body, although a non-Jewish cadaver does not ritually defile those people present in the same room who are not in physical contact with the deceased.

Although the exemption of pikuach nefesh (danger to life) sets aside all the commandments in the Torah, permissive rulings based on this principle apply only to physicians already in practice who are kohanim. The consideration of potential pikuach nefesh does not, however, sanction a kohen to begin medical school where the above-cited halachic problem cannot be overcome.

The rumored permissive ruling of the late Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog based on the promise to settle in Israel and contribute to the medical needs of the developing state has never been confirmed in writing and, therefore, cannot be given any credence.

This Halacha Bulletin was written by Fred Rosner, MD, FACP and Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, PhD and reviewed by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.

 


Subject: Kohen (priest) studying dentistry

Question: May a kohen become a dentist? What restrictions or permissive rulings, if any, are there regarding this question?

Answer: Under the usual academic conditions, a kohen is not permitted to study dentistry.

Comment: In the previous bulletin, we pointed out that, because of the requirement in United States medical schools that students take anatomy and pathology courses, there is no way that a kohen can attend medical school. Even if the assumption is made that most, if not all, cadavers are non-Jewish, ritual defilement of a kohen still occurs upon contact (maga) or by carrying (massa) any dead body. The halachic distinction between Jew and Gentile concerns ritual defilement on being present in the same room with a cadaver (tumath ohel).

The same objections expressed concerning medical school apply to dental school. The latter curriculum also includes ana­tomical dissection which is forbidden to a kohen irrespective of whether the cadaver is Jewish or non-Jewish. If, however, the dental student can avoid actual dissection and attend only as an observer, and if his early dentistry training does not include a human skull with its dentition, then there is little halachic objec­tion to a kohen studying dentistry. This restricted permissibility rests upon the fact that in the present era we follow the lenient halachic ruling that a non-Jewish corpse does not convey ritual defilement to people in the same room who have no direct contact with it. Unlike the physician, the dentist is not usually involved with dying patients, death certificates, the mortuary, etc., which pose seemingly insoluble problems to a physician who is a kohen.

This Halacha Bulletin was written by Fred Rosner, MD, FACP and Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, PhD and reviewed by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.

 


Subject: A physician or dentist treating his own family, including his parents

Question: Is a physician or dentist permitted to diagnose and treat illness in close members of his own family? Does the ruling apply equally to parent, sibling, spouse, child, aunt, uncle, cousin, nephew, niece etc.? Is a physician permitted to perform a complete physical examination on his close relative? May a physician or dentist draw blood from, or perform surgery on, or administer medication to his parents?

Answer: A physician or dentist should not draw blood, give injections, or perform surgery (even minor) on his parents, but may do so for all other relatives. If a life~threatening medical emergency arises, a physician may treat his parents, if no equally competent physician is available.

Comment: No greater honor can a Jewish physician bestow upon his father and mother than diagnosing and treating their physical ailments, particularly if the parent considers his or her child to be more competent than other physicians. Thus, all diagnostic and therapeutic procedures including history taking, physical examination and prescribing treatment are allowed in the fulfillment of Honor thy father and mother. Because of emotional involvement with family, the advice and cooperation of a colleague should be available.

There is, however, a Biblical prohibition against inflicting a wound upon one’s parent, and therefore, any diagnostic procedure that involves drawing blood, giving injections, lancing boils or other minor or major surgery, all of which are considered to constitute a “wound,” should not be performed by a physician or dentist, unless no equally competent physician or dentist is available.

No such restriction exists for all other relatives, including siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, children and spouses!

(Source: Shuichan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, Rama 241:2)

This Halacha Bulletin was written by Fred Rosner, MD, FACP and Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, PhD and reviewed by HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.

© 2018 Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists

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