STRANGERS IN OUR MIDST
One of the core commandments of Jewish Ethics is expressed in the verse in this week’s parasha:
“Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Devarim 10:19)
The medieval work on the Mitzvot, the Sefer HaChinuch, explains that this commandment extends to our supporting refugees who are displaced in a foreign land and find themselves without means of support.
We can look at this from another angle to include those amongst us, previously active and healthy, and now find themselves terminally ill. They can feel psychologically estranged from their family and community, and begin to question the value of continuing to live.
There is a Bill currently progressing through Parliament called the Assisted Dying Bill. It was introduced by Baroness Meacher, and it seeks to pass a law whereby someone who is terminally ill and not expected to survive more than six months, can request medical assistance to end their life.
Of course, the Jewish religion puts the highest value on life and forbids us from taking life, even our own. Yet, anyone who has had a relative or friend who has been in this situation can well understand the wretched plight such individuals can experience, and the hopelessness and despair that can make them want to end their lives.
I would urge everybody to read a powerful article that I read in the Times on Monday[i]. Dr Peter Scott-Morgan is a scientist with advanced Motor Neurone Disease. Since 2017, he has been told by his doctors that he might die within six months. He wrote the article in the Times just by using his eyes! He says: “I have love. I have fun. I have hope. I have purpose.”
Thanks to modern technology, he is able to speak with his original voice and activate his computer with his eyes. In England, only about 0.5% of MND patients receive the sort of continuous medical and technological support that he gets. In Japan, it is more than 30%.
Before terminally ill sufferers are told there is no hope, doctors and society at large have a responsibility to explore the other options that are emerging, thanks to the remarkable developments that have taken place.
Our obligation to “love the stranger” is to ensure that those who feel they have no more value to the community are given the attention and validation that their life does have meaning and significance. As Dr Scott-Morgan says: “It’s impossible to make the choice to live, let alone thrive, if you’re only offered ways to die.”
Whether or not we are able to supply the technology, we can at least supply the love so that no one should feel that they are burden on others.