Q. In our times when many terminally ill patients facing an imminent death are likely to be unconscious or wearing a mask connected to a breathing machine or are intubated to a ventilator, when does the patient become a “goses” or moribund, and following Halacha cannot be touched anymore?
A. Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 339: 1) rules that a goses or one at the final stage of the process of dying, is considered as being alive for all purposes. Even at that phase, whoever does anything that may cause his premature death, is shedding blood and committing murder. Rambam (H. Avel 4: 5) compares it to a sputtering candle, that if one touches it, it goes out immediately. Therefore, if the movement or touching is done for the purpose of keeping the patient alive a bit longer, not only it is permitted but it is an obligation, and one should desecrate Shabbos for even that temporary life extension.
Rema (E.H. 121: 7) explains that a goses is the patient that brings out wetness (bubbles from his mouth or nose), as his lungs can’t breath properly anymore. Some maintain that the expression “samuch” or close to death refers to a half an hour or less, (Rabaz 84).
Horav Shlomo Miller;s Shlit’a opinion is that when we do not know if the person is already a goses or not, we should treat him as before, since we maintain the “chezkas chaim” or established status the he had until now. However, the medical opinion and the experience and common sense of the ones familiar with similar situations, such as Rabbanim present prevails.
Rabbi A. Bartfeld as revised by Horav Shlomo Miller Shlit’a