Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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2 Tammuz 5766 - June 28, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Public Outrage Following Organ-Removal Operation at Shaarei Tzedek

By Betzalel Kahn

After adhering to halochoh since its founding in Jerusalem nearly a century ago, Shaarei Tzedek blatantly disregarded an established halachic directive by removing organs from a brain-dead patient.

The incident was particularly alarming since doctors at the hospital allegedly pressured the patient's relatives to agree to the organ transfer. Shaarei Tzedek officials have denied the accusations, claiming that the operation was performed at the family's request on the hospital grounds, although the hospital's halachic guidelines state that in the event that a family opts to donate organs the patient must be transferred to another hospital.

Shaarei Tzedek was founded by Dr. Meir Wallach under the halachic guidance of the late moro de'asra of Jerusalem, HaRav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld. The hospital operated in accordance with halochoh throughout the years, strictly abiding by all of the rulings issued by gedolei Yisroel through the hospital's rabbinical committee, even when the debate over autopsies raged in Israel 40 years ago.

In recent years the hospital strengthened its adherence to halochoh when HaRav Moshe Halberstam zt"l and HaRav Yehoshua Neuwirth ylct"a were appointed to serve as the halachic authorities, regularly consulting with maranan verabonon. Under their guidance a total ban was imposed on disconnecting patients from respirators or removing organs from brain-dead patients. All poskim agree that as long as the heart continues to beat the patient may not be disconnected from the respirator.

Recently a patient in serious condition was declared clinically brain dead. Deputy Director Prof. Shamash consulted with the hospital director, Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who was out of the country, and the two decided to go ahead with the operation as soon as the patient passed away, transplanting the kidneys to patients in critical condition.

But Yated Ne'eman learned that staff members pressured the patient's relatives to sign a consent form to have the organs removed while he was still alive. The operation was a blatant violation of various decisions by the hospital's rabbinical committee, comprised of representatives for gedolei Yisroel and the Jerusalem Eida Chareidis, prohibiting the removal of organs from living patients.

For years HaRav Halberstam and HaRav Neuwirth stood fast against attempts by top Shaarei Tzedek officials to strip the hospital of its Jewish character.

Since HaRav Halberstam's passing maranan verabonon have been discussing a successor to join HaRav Neuwirth on the rabbinical committee.

Rabbonim and public figures cautioned that the recent incident could lead to a demand for the Director's Committee to replace the current board of directors.

In an interview published in Yated Ne'eman three months ago, Hospital Director Prof. Jonathan Halevy said, " . . . Gedolei haposkim, including Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita, forbid transplants in the event of brain- death. Hospitals that operate in accordance with halochoh do not perform organ transplants. Today, if attempts were made to introduce organ transplants [at Shaarei Tzedek] the hospital, which is run in accordance with the rabbonim on the Rabbinical Committee — who consult with gedolei haposkim including HaRav Eliashiv — would have sat down to consider the matter in depth and clarify with great precision what is permitted and what is prohibited."

Hospital Spokeswoman Shoham Rubio said, "This is not a case of clinical death but of the family's desire to donate the organs of their loved one who had passed away, being completely brain dead. The Committee for the Pronouncement of Brain Death was headed by Prof. Avraham Steinberg. The hospital was about to transfer the deceased to another hospital for organ removal in order to save the lives of patients waiting for them, in accordance with the directives of the hospital posek. But the family refused to agree to the transfer and insisted that the removal operation be performed at Shaarei Tzedek. As a result, in order not to deprive living patients of these organs, the removal operation was performed at Shaarei Tzedek by a team from another hospital."

"From the moment we learned of the incident," HaRav Neuwirth told Yated Ne'eman, "we passed on clear and staunch objections to the hospital board in order to try to prevent the murder of a dying patient, in accordance with the opinion of mori verabi Maran HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l, Maran HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt"l and HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv ylct"a, who state that such circumstances unequivocally constitute murder — retzichoh shel mamash — but they would not listen and we did not give them any dispensation. The response we make now will be made based on consultation with Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita."

At a special meeting late last week following the scandal the Jerusalem Eida Chareidis decided to take action, including a protest and tefilloh day on Sunday.


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