Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

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










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Communicating the Sanctity of Life According to the Torah

A very upsetting incident occurred in Shaarei Tzedek hospital last week, in which organs were taken from a dying (but not yet dead) person in order to help others.

This is an issue that is enormously sensitive in the Torah world — to a depth and extent that we believe is frankly beyond the understanding of those on the outside.

A letter issued on 18 Menachem Av, 5751 (1991) by HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l as well as by ylct'a HaRav Y.S. Eliashiv shlita, was very sharp and clear: "As long as the heart of the [prospective] donor beats, and even if his entire brain, including the brain stem, shows absolutely no activity — that which is termed "brain death" — with all this it is our ruling that there is no permission to take out even one of his limbs [organs], and doing so even involves bloodshed."

The more there is in common between two sides of an interchange, the easier will be the exchange of information. There needs to be some common language for the discourse, but even if the two sides speak the same language, there can be serious problems if there are relevant differences in assumptions and values. For example, what one side thinks "goes without saying," the other side may completely disagree with.

This appears to be the case with discussions of the value of human life. Once there was a strong common basis between the Jewish perception of human life and the common Western perception. But over several decades the Western view has "evolved" downwards to a point that there is no longer any contact between our two perspectives. Since we speak a common language (whether Hebrew or English) it can seem like we understand each other. The truth is that, unfortunately, Western-educated modern people (including secular Israeli doctors) completely lack a perception of moral absolutes and thus do not really see our point of view at all — not even to reject it. It is simply beyond their entire life's experience.

Our response is, in this and many similar situations, to draw sharp lines and refuse to allow any crossing. This is the only effective way that we can express our opinion in such a way that we may be able to achieve satisfactory results if our views are given consideration or even if our views are in control. We feel that we can not say anything more than a curt conclusion because we can never make our feelings and opinions clear enough to the other side so that they will not be subject to tragic, if unwitting, misinterpretations. The gap in values and presuppositions is so great that these problems are inevitable.

We note that HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt"l wrote an unusual response (Igros Moshe, Yore Dei'ah 2, 174) to an inquiry in this area about heart transplants, which had been done for the first time in those days. Rav Moshe wrote that we must be very careful not to even give the impression that the subject is open for discussion at all with the doctors. As such, the halachic decision must be expressed as concisely and unequivocally as possible. "I do not want to lengthen my discussion with proofs and reasoning and give-and- take, because I say that whoever brings additional proofs and discussion makes things worse because [his discussion] implies that he needs those proofs and that it is not so obvious [that it is forbidden]. As a result they may come to leniencies and question the proofs . . . and they will say that the rabbis disagree in this matter and therefore there are grounds for leniency chas vesholom. Therefore I say in response that theoretically and practically it is clear and absolute and that there is no basis for any discussion on the matter."

It is especially painful when incidents such as this occur in an institution that was founded and run for so many years according to halochoh, with great poskim as its halachic decisors, and where it is the desire of many of its patients and staff that it continue along these lines.

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