Medical Conditions: To Share or Not?
by Devora Krasnianski, founder of Adai Ad Institute
In these words, I share some perspectives about when and how to share about medical conditions. Many medical conditions are not that complex and the person lives a normal life. The rabbis differentiate between an ‘illness’ and a ‘weakness’. A weakness might be an allergy or food intolerance. An illness is something more complex such as diabetes. Nonetheless, the person who might marry someone with any condition should know about it before the marriage.
The question is not if a medical condition should be shared but rather when and how to tell.
Each family, each medical condition is unique; thus work this out with a rabbi, shadchen or mentor who has experience in these areas – for your particular community. Here are some points to think about as you prepare to talk to your mentor.
It is important to note that this is not necessarily a halacha question, and it doesn’t necessarily need a rav as much as a wise person who understands the community expectations. NOTE: There are some aspects that might be halacha related and when speaking to a rav, ask him to let you know what is halacha specifically. For aspects that are not directly halacha, if the insights or advice doesn’t feel comfortable to you, you can and should continue conversations until you come up with a plan that feels right to you.
Don’t share until you feel that there might be a ‘reason’ to share, in other words, until the couple feels an attachment and that this relationship might actually lead to marriage.
Proponents of this strategy explain that there is no reason to share the situation with just anyone and thus they hide it (or just don’t bring it up) until the other side ‘needs to know’.
Opponents posit that it isn’t fair to play with someone’s emotions. He might have really gotten to admire and like her – and then this bombshell is dropped.
Share upfront. When the shadchen is describing the person, she also explains the medical condition – and how it will impact his life and how he manages it. She may also include a ‘note from the doctor’ explaining the condition, the severity, the impact, etc.
The challenge with this is the way many people perceive medical conditions, or any other ‘imperfections’. Generally the thought in frum communities is: “My child deserves perfect – why should she settle for someone who isn’t perfect with a medical condition.”
On the other hand, if a person does enough ‘research’, they might uncover this medical condition and then feel betrayed that it wasn’t shared upfront. Additionally, they might hear about it from someone, like a roommate who saw him taking pills, who doesn’t know much about it and might most likely describe it incorrectly.
Include it right there on the profile/ resume. This is thinking along the lines that the families doing research will find out anyway, so why not just put it right out there. And we are not embarrassed of the situation, it is just a part of who he is.
While this might be commendable, it is important to get in the mindset of someone who receives the resume – one among many. They may simply pass over that resume, thinking “Why go there, if I can get someone who is more ‘perfect’.”
The information is shared after one or two dates – after they have become acquainted yet before an emotional attachment is developed. In this way, the information is not shared with just anyone, at the same time, it is not deep into their relationship that it is shared.
Some other things to consider:
Who is the one sharing the information – a friend or family member who knows and cares about the prospective person, or a hired shadchen?
What expense and efforts might the other party incur during the shiduchim phase (ex: traveling far distance to meet her)
How has this condition impacted the person himself – is he stronger because of it, does he have a complex, does he consider himself just like everyone else?
What is the medical condition and how it will impact the family life on a daily basis – something like allergies or digestion issues can simply be addressed with diet changes for the family.
Is it genetic?
Can medication be taken during pregnancy and nursing?
How it might impact parnassah?
To whom this shidduch is being suggested -what is the best way for this particular family to hear about it.
When actually sharing …
When someone does share about the medical condition – at whatever point feels right for you – it is important to note that HOW it is presented is crucial. The tone, the timing, who says it, and the words. It might be worthwhile to practice beforehand.
Some people may actually bring in the doctor who can explain it all – the exact condition, how he manages it, how it will impact life, can medication be taken during pregnancy, etc. and can answer all questions. Too often, when a layperson hears about a condition, they make all sorts of assumptions or get misinformation from the internet. Thus a conversation with his doctor can be very helpful.
Do not judge the other person for their hesitancy or questions. Answer truthfully and fully.