Close this search box.

Religious Rights at Issue in Hospital Lawsuit To Pull the Plug on Orthodox Jewish Boy

court hammer.jpgA hearing is scheduled for Monday morning, November 10, in a lawsuit filed by the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. seeking a court order to terminate the life support of a 12-year-old Jewish boy.

The boy, Motl Brody, whose family resides in Brooklyn, was brought to Children’s National for treatment of a brain tumor.  Tragically, the treatment did not succeed.  The boy is currently breathing with the assistance of a ventilator, but the hospital asserts that his brain demonstrates no discernable electrical activity.

The struggle between the hospital and the boy’s Orthodox Jewish parents comes down to competing definitions of death.  Under the secular law of the District of Columbia, a person whose brain has irreversibly ceased functioning is legally dead, and the hospital maintains that the boy’s condition meets that legal standard.  However, many Orthodox Jewish rabbinic authorities – including the rabbi to whom the boy’s family turned for guidance – reject the concept of “brain death.”  They maintain, as a matter of halacha (Jewish religious law), that a person whose brain has ceased functioning is nonetheless alive as long as his heart is still beating, albeit with the assistance of mechanical respiration.

When the boy’s parents, Eluzar and Miriam Brody, saw they were heading toward a conflict with the hospital, they turned to Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish group that advocates on behalf of religious rights.  Agudath Israel’s associate general counsel Rabbi Mordechai Biser promptly reached out to its volunteer legal network, and Jeffrey I. Zuckerman, a Washington-based lawyer with the firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt and Mosle LLP, agreed to take on the case pro bono.

As the hospital made preparations to remove the boy from the life-sustaining machinery late last Sunday night, Agudath Israel’s Washington Office director and counsel, Rabbi Abba Cohen, reached a federal judge and persuaded the hospital to hold off on its plan.

The next day, attorney Zuckerman entered into discussions with the hospital’s attorneys.  However, the discussions did not yield a mutually acceptable outcome, and Chidrens’ General filed a legal motion seeking authority to discontinue the boy’s ventilator and life-sustaining medication.

Mr. Zuckerman’s response cited the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, under which an individual’s religious practices must be accommodated, even when they conflict with a federal law, unless there is a compelling governmental interest against such accommodation.  There is no compelling governmental interest in this case, according to Mr. Zuckerman, that would overcome the Brodys’ religious rights to have their son continue to receive life support.

Pending the outcome of the court hearing on Monday, the hospital is continuing to maintain Motl on life support. (Click HERE and HERE to see are copies of court papers which were filed on Thursday afternoon.)

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president for government and public affairs, noted that Agudath Israel had been instrumental in getting legislation enacted in several states requiring health care facilities to accommodate religious objections to acceptance of “brain death” as the end of life.

“This case,” he said, “reminds us how important it is to get the medical establishment to recognize that there is a religious dimension to the determination of what constitutes human life, and that the beliefs of individual patients and families must be taken into account in the provision of life support.”


Askanim (community activists) working on the case have reached out to YWN and requested that people contact the hospital and demand that they respect the families wishes.

Children’s National Medical Center:
Main Hospital Address:
111 Michigan Ave., N.W
Washington, D.C 20010

[email protected] or [email protected] (Subject: DON’T TAKE MOTL BRODY OFF LIFE SUPPORT!)

Volunteer Services: 202-476-2062
Public Relations: 202-476-4500
General Information: 202-476-3000
Advocacy and Community Affairs: 202-476-4930

For the original YWN story, please click HERE.

(YWN Desk – NYC)

6 Responses

  1. I’m afraid we’ll see more of this under the new administration. In Illinois, guess who voted against keeping “botched abortions” alive?

  2. Kol Hakovod to the Aguda for their tireless unsung work on behalf of our grateful Klal.
    Rabosai – lets get to work, make the calls and send the emails-respectfully.

  3. really #2. this article is not the place to post that. this isn’t an abortion, this is a neshoma that needs tehillim. this has nothing to do with the new administration, because this has been going on for more than a week. please save these comments for the appoprate article.

  4. Most hospitals have an ethics committee that decide what should happen with a patient. The senior chaplain at Children’s Hospital is The Rev. Kathleen Ennis-Durstine, phone 202) 476-3321, fax: (202) 476-3076 e-mail: [email protected] . People shold contact her also.

Leave a Reply

Popular Posts