11/19/06

When a Rabbi's Logic Kills People

Yes it is possible for a rabbi to draw what he thinks is a logical conclusion and thereby cause the death of an individual. Howso? If the rabbi concludes that a brain death is not death and thereby prohibits the donation of organs -- and a patient in need is denied said organs and dies -- then that rabbi has caused the death of a person.

The Times reports on just such a scenario in its report on a conference at Albert Einstein Medical College of Yeshiva University, "A Medical Dimension to a Religious Debate."

Rabbi Flaum argued that the criteria [of death] be the shutdown of the heart and lungs, citing Jewish religious commentators. Rabbi Flaum is a member of the medical ethics commission of the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of mostly Orthodox rabbis.

After his talk, Rabbi Flaum said he supported organ donation in principle but wanted the “when, why and where” of donation to be specific.

“If life persists in the rest of the body,” he said, “therefore some part of the soul remains.”

For Ted Lawson, 63, of the Upper East Side, the rabbis’ debate was far from Talmudic.

A Presbyterian and a former investment banker, Mr. Lawson was dying of heart disease last year when he received the heart of a 55-year-old woman who had died of a gunshot wound.

“I am a heart recipient,” Mr. Lawson said, “and if the donors of the heart had stuck to cardiac death, I wouldn’t have a heart. I don’t agree with the rabbi’s stand, otherwise I’d be dead.”

4 comments:

Reb Yudel said...

R. Flaum, of course, would argue that R. Tendler and others who permit brain death criteria are the ones responsible for the death of the donor.

Of course, what Tendler has going for his psak is that the brain-dead lady is a treifa, and you're not really a murderer if you kill her. But today's contemporary halachicsts would much rather use a category like treifa to forbid dairy products than to save a life.

Bryce said...

"If the rabbi concludes that a brain death is not death and thereby prohibits the donation of organs -- and a patient in need is denied said organs and dies -- then that rabbi has caused the death of a person."

So, what if he concludes that a breathing stoppage, or a heart stoppage is not the criterion for death and therey prohibits the donation of organs, and a patient in need dies? Is the rabbi also causing the death of THAT patient?

Tzvee said...

What troubles me is that rabbis have about the same expertise in this area as they do in running a nuclear reactor. There is no reason for me to trust someone who has studied ancient texts when it comes to a determination of a modern medical issue. And you may say that this is a moral issue or a theological issue - as Flaum sort of implies in the quote in the times (“If life persists in the rest of the body,” he said, “therefore some part of the soul remains.”). But I don't know how Flaum or any other rabbi knows the time that soul departs from the body. No one knows that because it is unknowable. I'm not saying Flaum is wrong or right - just that if he and other rabbis interject their aggressive fundamentalist views into this debate - they will end up causing the deaths of potential organ recipients - while the life they are protecting is not a true life.

Bryce said...

"There is no reason for me to trust someone who has studied ancient texts when it comes to a determination of a modern medical issue."

Are you talking about R' Flaum, or are you talking about leaders such as R' Feinstein or others who, you well know, intensely consult the experts of modern medicine?

Still, just about ANY definition of death will, in your words, cause the death of others who need organs.