UTJ Opposes Bill to Disconnect Brain-Dead Patients from Life Support

(Monday, February 18th, 2008)

eliyashiv.jpgDuring a rabbinical conference held at a Dead Sea hotel MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni delivered a speech in which addressed the bill regarding brain-dead patients on respirators proposed by Otniel Schneller (Kadima), who was in attendance.

Rabbi Gafni objected to the position espoused by Schneller, who claimed that all gedolei Torah support the proposal. Rabbi Gafni said that in fact the opposite is true. Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita issued instructions to oppose the law, saying that according to halochoh as long as the heart continues to beat the patient is considered alive in every respect and it is strictly forbidden to deny medical treatment, and as such UTJ has decided to oppose the bill.

Rabbi Gafni even called on every family who faces such situations, chas vesholom, to demand full treatment for the patient based on legal rights.

Letter from HaRav Eliashiv shlita about Brain Death

I hereby reiterate my opinion, which I put on record on the eighteenth of Menachem Av 5751, that according to our holy Torah, as long as the heart beats, even though the patient has suffered brain death, there is no license whatsoever to remove any organ from his body.

May Hashem yisborach repair our nation’s breaches.

(signed) Yosef Sholom Eliashiv

(Yechiel Sever for Dei’ah veDibur)

9 Comments

  1. DaasTorahWtchdg says:

    Daas Torah shall prevail!

  2. SL says:

    Some argue that Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl was in favor of full brain death (including the death of the hypothalamus–an area of the brain which often is still functioning in patients declared legally brain dead) being made equivalent to halachic death (hutaz ha’rosh, or respiratory criteria for death).

    However, many poskim view this otherwise, including Rav Waldenberg ztl, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ztl, Rav Wosner ztl, and ycmchlch Rav Elyashiv shlita.

    This became a big issue over two decades ago.

    This is an ongoing struggle, as many prefer to construe the opinions of various gedolim other than as expressed.

    This is not a trivial matter:

    If a person is alive halachically, then disconnecting that person is retzicha, murder, even if the person is imminently dying (eg, a gossess), as noted in the Shulchan Aruch.

    If a person is dead halachically, then in many cases organ transplantation could and perhaps should proceed.

    Unfortunately, much of the Western world has moved on, from acceptance of ‘brain death’ (as advocated even by some in the orthodox camp) to now trying to end the lives of disabled people, such as Samuel Golubchuk, a disabled frum man who is awake in a Winnipeg hospital, where doctors are fighting the family (his frum children want him kept alive, obviously). Indeed, the doctors in Manitoba have published a policy calling for the deliberate ending of lives of disabled people.

    The reaction from the Jewish community in Canada has so far been quite mute, perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out of denial of the very real threat of this ‘futile care’ doctrine spreading nationwide.

    You can help by signing the “Save Sam Golubchuk” petition online, and by contacting frum and other organizations as well as the media.

    Let us keep this landmark case in Canada in view of our community, and even contact the family to offer chizuk and prayer on behalf of Chaim Shmuel ben Pinya. (they can be reached at SGolubchuk@shaw.ca).

    This is clearly a matter of lo sa’amod al dam ray’echa.

  3. mordekhai124 says:

    I agree to the Torah Laws we are not allowed to put person into a majority of death.. If the person is Brain Dead and if the Heart is still beating that mean the person is not condiserate dead.. We have hard time and yet Hashem decided this is a test.. We may not understand it but we must obey what he commanded… I know you all feel pressured by this issue. But look how much chessed you may earn from this world… Just remember we are still in Golus and not yet in Geluah…Be strong and paised to Hashem to help this person Neshumlah..

  4. ChadGadya says:

    Their attitudes didn’t seem to stop them keeping Ariel Sharon on life support. But then I suppose if he was brain-dead from the start…

  5. shazam says:

    #5: Um, the frum doctor is certainly free to follow his own posek, but it’s the patient’s life, so maybe the patient (or the patient’s family) should follow their posek instead…

  6. SL says:

    In a matter of possible pikuach nefesh, I would imagine that if either the posek for the MD or the posek for the family did not consider brain death to be equivalent to halachic death (and both were acknowledged poskim), a problem might arise. The MD would have to excuse himself from the case, I suppose. This has apparently happened at a Brooklyn hospital catering to the frum community, on at least occasion.

    Recent articles in the medical literature point to a lack of uniformity in even how secular physicians define and determine brain death.

    Obviously, such variation bodes ill even for those relatively few poskim who accept the secular criteria for ‘brain death’.

    Recall that the term ‘brain death’ arose for merely prognostic purposes, originally, as hospitals tried to figure out what to do with such patients when they were on ventilators and the like.

    Subsequently, those involved in heart transplantation realized that using this term could assuage those who felt squeamish about taking out a heart from a ‘donor’, thereby possibly killing the donor, in order to give that heart to someone else.

    (Read EVERY SECOND COUNTS for the history of the surgeons involved in the race to be the 1st to transplant a heart.)

    The inconvenient fact that a not-insignificant percentage of patients termed ‘brain dead’ apparently have areas of the brain which are still functioning–such as the hypothalamus–is something that is disquieting, to say the least.
    Without hashgacha by knowledgeable people, who is to say doctors won’t ‘cut corners’ and declare someone ‘brain dead’ prematurely, to procure organs or out of the best of intentions?
    We insist on hashgacha for foods and now for fertility…why not for fatality?
    Is the ne’emanus of the rofeh not open to question, when the person doing the testing is a resident a few months out of medical school?

    Read NISHMAT AVRAHAM (most recent edition, in Hebrew, or earlier English edition) and compare to Prof. Steinberg’s ENCYCLOPEDIA OF JEWISH MEDICAL ETHICS. Both take strong views, on different sides of the issue.

    See http://www.hods.org for what some view as a slanted view of the topic, which snippets of interviews from various persons, nearly all of which support organ donation, as does the organization itself.

    Rav Herschel Schachter, in a recent talk at the AOJS conference, summed up the view attributed to
    Rav Soloveitchik ztl, namely that this is a complex dispute on an issue of life and death, hence one must be machmir in both directions.

    Of course, this does not sit well with some.

    Obviously, one of the characteristics that separates us from the amim is our willingness to seek and listen to the decision of a posek on such matters.

    I would respectfully suggest that only relatively few poskim have the stature to address such issues.

  7. DM says:

    There is another great issue here. We can have our debates, and I think it will turn out that the overwhelming majority of Frum Rabbonim will rule that as long as there is a heartbeat, the patient is alive.

    But the bigger issue is that if any law is passed in Israel that is counter to Halacha, its very existence will be used as the medical committee’s arguments to turn off life support around the world.
    A bad ruling/law in Israel may cost thousands of innocent Jewish lives all over the globe.
    I can just hear the medical ethics committee arguing its point to the rabbi and/or judge, “They claim that being Jewish means they must keep life support going. But their own country, Israel, does otherwise.”

    As much as we know that is a bad argument, it will sound like a really strong one to the gentiles making these decisions.

  8. matzahlocaol101 says:

    Unfortunately these decisions are now being made by people who hold “medical ethics” conventions, as if there were no medical ethics before they came along. Among some of their Doctor Rabbiners making these decision I recently heard a tape from one them advocating abortion (Yes, we are taking about YU people) It now has the rosey title of “pregnancy reduction” and it’s a mitzvah because a certain percentage of multiple pregnancies have complications, the births can cost $300,000., a certain percent to not survive term, etc. So it works like this: suppose a woman has “G-d forbid a multiple pregnancy” (That disgusting quote is straight off the recording) because G-d is incapable of properly handling multiple births, tefilah isn’t even an option. So instead we turn to the doctors (as explained in the end of mesechtes Sotah) Let’s say she’s expecting 2 boys and 2 girls. We ask “would you rather have boys or girls?” Boys., OK. The girls are rodfim (rodfos?) so we can kill them to save the boys. Right before the operation she says “I changed my mind. I want a boy and a girl.” No problem. One of the boys becomes a rodef and we kill him to save the girl and the boy. Todays Medical ethics from YU as taught by Dr. Josef Mengele. Among these ethicists is one of the most unethical people to ever hold that title. I would post clear evidence but YWN never posts my links.

  9. SL says:

    Comments such as those by the person posting at 6:54AM, above, detract from a rational discussion of the very real issues involved. The halachos of pregnancy reduction — which has nothing to do with the topic of end of life care — are way beyond the scope of this article, and are quite complicated.

    To compare any Yid with an evil Nazi doctor is beyond the pale. No one in any camp with which one disagrees deserves such treatment.

    I reiterate that the issues of end of life care have moved well beyond brain death, so that people who are alive l-kol ha’deyos are at grave risk, and these threats to life will, chas v’sholom, sooner or later come to a hospital near you.

    Let’s concentrate on facts and not defamatory remarks. The facts alone are gloomy enough.

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