Rav Moshe Shternbuch: Morphine For Terminally Ill Patients
Patients suffering from terrible pain are often given morphine. While it reduces the pain, it also shortens a person life. In light of the halacha (YD 339) that you cannot do anything to hasten a person's death even as they breathe their lasts breathe, is this permissible?
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (3:361) says that it is permissible when there is no hope to live more then 12 months. Since the patient's whole existence is only "Chayei Sha'a", by giving them morphine and alleviating their pain you are in essence giving them life, albeit shortening it. Moreover the action of giving them morphine is not done to shorten their life, rather to lengthen it, even if the end result is the opposite. Furthermore when one is in unbearable pain, that itself is dangerous and relieving it may save them.
Rav Shternbuch does however stress that the patient themself should only agree to take morphine if they truly feel the pain is unbearable to the point where they despise life itself. It should not be used to alleviate any pain or discomfort that they can bear through hardship.
In conclusion we will quote a few stirring lines from the Tshuva. "And who can bear to stand and watch a sick person heaven forbid, writhe in terrible pain and say that is forbidden to give him means to alleviate his pain. With pain like this, his life is not considered living and he cannot live like a human being. Alleviating suffering is also a form of salvation and it is worthwhile."
Important Note: We try to convey the Tshuva to the best of our ability. We admit that our understanding may not be accurate. Please also understand that this Tshuva may not be the final word on this topic. One should consult a Rav before drawing any conclusions.