Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rav Ahron Soloveichik on Brain Death

See Jewish Bioethics by Bleich & Rosner for a brief article. The following is his response to Rabbi Dr. Tendler's article in JAMA.

Jewish Law and Time of Death - JAMA, July 14, 1978--Vol 240, No.2

To the Editor.
The article dealing with brain death (238:1651, 1977) contains a serious misinterpretation of Jewish law pertaining to establishment of the time of death. The statement that "absent heartbeat or pulse was not considered a significant factor in ascertaining death in any early religious sources" is a manifest error In fact, the source to which the reader is directed by the footnote, Babylonian Talmud Tractate Yoma 85A, serves to establish precisely the opposite position. Jewish law recognizes the presence of any vital function, including heart action, as indicative of at least residual life. Termination of such life by means of "pulling the plug" or otherwise constitutes an act of homicide.

Moreover, a sharp distinction must be drawn between partial and total destruction of the brain. The authors state that the Harvard criteria signify that "when the criteria have been fulfilled, there is widespread destruction of the brain" and that "time must often elapse before
morphologic evidence of cellular destruction can be. detected." This cannot be equated at all with the state of decapitation.

Jewish law cannot be cited in support of brain death legislation presently before the legislatures of various states. Jewish law cannot condone the removal of life support systems from any patient in whom any vital sign is present.

RABBI AARON SOLOVEICHIK. Brisk Rabbinical College
Skokie, Ill.

The RCA's recent paper is here (in pdf form)

No comments: