Friday, May 09, 2014

Could Suicide Have Been Prevented?

R' Avrohom Yeshaya Kareltiz - the Chazon Ish
A true – and very sad story on David Morris’s  Tzedek-Tzedek blog.  A non observant gay man who suffered from clinical depression was undergoing psychotherapy with a religious psychotherapist. He related to him that his partner had recently walked out on their relationship. He further told him that his depression was so bad because of this - that he was seriously contemplating suicide. Suicide is unfortunately an all to frequent outcome of clinically depressed people who feel completely hopeless about their situation.

The psychotherapist believed that suicide was a distinct possibility in this particular case. And he wondered whether he could prevent or delay any such attempts by inviting his client’s former gay partner into therapy with his client in an attempt to reconcile the relationship.

As a religious Jew who understands the severely prohibitive nature of the male to male homosexual act (Mishkav Zechor), he did not want to be guilty of something called Misayei’ah L’Dvar Aveira – facilitating a sinful act. Especially one as severe as this one. Halacha forbids one to act as a facilitator to sinful acts.

He asked a Shaila to a Posek and was told that Halacha forbids him to do so for that very reason. So he never made the suggestion. Shortly thereafter the gay man hanged himself in his apartment.

Was this the right decision by that Posek in light of the outcome? In his post on the subject, Rabbi Daniel Eidensohn thinks not. If reconciliation would have prevented the suicide, it should have been done. Here is what he said: 
I once asked Rav Sternbuch about the permissibility of therapy with a couple that did not keep taharas mishpacha. He cited the Chazon Ish as the source of a principle that if the discord reduces their sinning that it would be prohibited to provide them with therapy. However he noted that it is not unusual for couples today to commit adultery. Thus in fact there would be no reduction in sinning if there were marital discord and thus he said that therapy was permitted. 
As R’ Eidensohn further points out, it is reasonable to assume that had this gay man survived the depression and not committed suicide, he would have eventually found another partner and continued his sinful acts anyway. Thus nothing was to be gained by not reconciling him with his partner. And of course by not reconciling them – all was lost!

The fact happens to be that this man was clinically depressed - a disease that usually requires medication. And as I said earlier, clinically depressed people do attempt suicide and unfortunately they sometimes succeed. So it is possible that this man would eventually commit suicide even if there was a reconciliation. Clinical Depression is a disease of the brain. It is independent of one’s life circumstances. But is is also true that life circumstances can and often do impact on a depressed personality to make things worse. 

Depression feeds off of itself. The longer you have it, the more hopeless it seems. Living with clinical depression is impossibly difficult. People who do not have it, cannot possibly understand what it is like. And once that sense of hopelessness sets in, suicide becomes an attractive ‘way out’. That’s why suicide is so common among depressed people. The longer one is depressed, the greater the probability that he will end his life.

So in the case of this gay man, he may have done it anyway. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t do everything in our power to prevent it. There is no wisdom in allowing a situation to continue that will become the precipitating factor in a suicide. If a suicide can be prevented by changing the situation, it ought to be done. 

Not trying to do so might even be seen as a violation of the Torah’s clear dictate of not standing idly by on your brother’s blood. The psychologist in this case feared this outcome. He felt he should not stand idly by and let his gay client’s blood be spilled. He asked a Shaila and was told that this  is exactly what he should do - stand by and allow a threatened suicide to happen.

This was a Pikuach Nefesh issue. There is no other way to see it, in my view.  I agree with Rabbi Eidensohn.

I would also ask that Posek why he thought reconciling a relationship between two gay men was in fact a Mesayei’ah L’Dvar Aviera.  I have been told by people in the gay community that not every male homosexual relationship ends up in Mishkav Zechor. So putting these two people back together was no guarantee that they would be sinning at that level – or at any level. But even if they would sin at that level, reconciling a relationship is not a direct facilitation of that sin. It is only a facilitation of conditions that may allow it to happen.

The bottom line for me here is that a life could have been saved. And yet a Posek was stringent in matters of sexual impropriety at the expense of Pikuach Nefesh. I do not think it was a wise decision. In my view he should have been stringent in Pikuach Nefesh.