by Rabbi Shulamit Ambalu, Sha’arei Tsedek
There is enormous pain and sadness following the sentencing of Lucy Letby this week. As someone who worked for 14 years in the NHS, my own real anger is with the managers and leaders whose actions should have been different. I fully expect a statutory enquiry. I suspect that the leaders who failed to act were driven by fear: fear of a scandal, fear of thinking the unthinkable, fear of making a mistake. But fear is a useful emotion; essential in fact, for preserving life. I suspect the doctors who spoke up were also fearful, but their professionalism and teamwork enables courage and action.
The Torah portion we read in shul this week offers a tool for thinking the unthinkable.
When you build a new house, you shall construct a parapet for your roof, then you will not incur blood guilt on your house, if anyone falls from it. (Deut 22:8)
In Hebrew, the phrase ki yipol ha-nophel mimeno (when someone falls from it) suggests that it’s a question of when and not if. In other words, people fall from rooves. The householder is guilty if they do not construct a means of prevention. The parapet – or ma’akeh- is not only physical, it is also a conceptual tool. Building and maintaining protective boundaries is not an option
There is real danger at the borders of life and death, and clinicians know this. That is the function of a genuine ma’akeh, to protect others from falling. To establish culpability. People fall from rooves. A hospital can be a dangerous place. The doctors who spoke up were aware of their own responsibility; they tried to build a ma’akeh. As the enquiry unfolds we may find out how dangerous it is when leaders choose not to build a parapet to protect others, but a wall to preserve themselves.
May justice bring comfort to all who mourn.