Thursday, 8 May 2014
A Jewish Orthodox Therapist, and the Suicidal Gay Client
(This distressing story is true, and published here with permission of an involved party).
"Robert" was a secular male client of an orthodox psychotherapist here in Israel, who we will call "Dr Avi"
Robert told Dr Avi that he is extremely depressed.
This depression had been a long term problem, but it had recently been exacerbated.
Robert explained to Dr Avi that he is gay, and that his male partner had recently walked out on him.
Robert was so upset after the break-up, that he was even feeling and acting suicidal.
"I have hung up a rope with a noose in my room," Robert explained.
"If I reach the stage that everything is totally hopeless and I'm ready to kill myself, everything will be ready".
During Dr Avi's session with his clinical supervisor, the idea came up of Dr Avi inviting Robert's boyfriend to the therapy sessions, to see if they could patch up the relationship.
Dr Avi and his supervisor, who is also orthodox, decided that before proceeding further with this, they would need to consult with a rabbinical authority.
Dr Avi called up the rabbi to ask whether he is permitted to help this client by facilitating a meeting between Robert and his gay ex-partner (who was going to be heading abroad in the coming days)?
The rabbi explained to Dr Avi that, as homosexual sex is strictly forbidden by the Bible/Torah, it is also forbidden for the therapist to try to fix-up the homosexual relationship ("Mesayea lidvar aveira").
Indeed, this was forbidden, even for the purposes of improving or curing the client ("Ein merapim b'issurim").
Following his rabbi's advice, Dr Avi did not bring up the suggestion in therapy with Robert of bringing in Robert's ex-partner.
Shortly afterwards, Dr Avi was called by Robert's distressed brother, who informed him that, following an argument between Robert and his brother, tragically, Robert had returned to his flat, and was later found dead in his room, hanging from the rope.
When I heard this story, I was very troubled.
I am confident that the rabbi was surely an authority on halacha.
For example (hat-tip: Yitzchak Samet), in the Halachot of Kiddush Hashem (Yesodei Hatorah 5:12) the Rambam brings the ruling from the Gemara (Sanhedrin 75a) regarding a man who became mortally ill due to his lust for a particular woman and the doctors say that the only way to save him is for him to have sex with her.
Not only do we not advise him (pasken) that he can do so. We do not even advise him that he may converse with her from behind a barrier - even if she is unmarried!
An orthodox therapist is indeed obligated to follow halacha.
Tragedies happen, and one is often unable to change that.
For example, this client may have hanged himself, regardless of whether they had brought the ex-lover to the therapy session. After all, the depression pre-existed the split-up with his partner - so maybe the break-up was a contributing factor, rather than a cause for the suicide. And who is to say that arranging such a meeting between the ex-partners, would have resulted in fixing the relationship (the partner was heading abroad).
However, the question does need to be asked, should the parties have behaved differently, in hindsight, and are there lessons to be learned which could avoid future tragedies?
Update 11/5/14: There are recommended articles and interesting comments about the same case on Daas Torah (R.Daniel Eidensohn) and Emet Ve'Emunah (R.Harry Maryles).