Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Adar II 5768 - March 27, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Brain-Death Law Passed

By Eliezer Rauchberger

The Knesset approved in second and third readings the Brain and Respiratory Death Law this week with a majority of 24 MKs from various parties against only five no-votes and one abstention.

The five opponents were MKs Rabbi Gafni and Rabbi Porush of UTJ and Uri Ariel, Effie Eitan and Yitzchak Levy of HaIchud HaLeumi-NRP. MK Ahmad Tibi abstained. The supporters were from Kadima, Labor, Shas, Meretz, Pensioners, HaIchud HaLeumi- NRP and the Likud.

Before the third reading Rabbi Gafni announced that UTJ wanted to view the vote as a no-confidence vote in order to defer it for one week. But PM Ehud Olmert turned the vote into a confidence vote which, according to Knesset regulations, must be held on the spot. Therefore some UTJ members were not present.

The new legislation goes against halochoh and gedolei haposkim, including HaRav Eliashiv shlita. According to a notice recently issued by HaRav Eliashiv, "As long as the heart continues to beat, even if the brain stem is dead, the patient should be considered living in every respect."

"I oppose this law outright," said Rabbi Gafni. "Someone who is brain dead is a living human being. The leading poskim hold that brain death is not death and declaring [the patient] dead in such a case borders on murder."

A few years ago nobody considered allowing a brain-dead patient to be declared dead, he noted, and at this rate, in another five years there may be calls to declare death at an earlier stage, e.g. terminally ill patients who have yet to be declared brain dead or dead as a result of cardiac arrest.

He also challenged the paragraph of the law stating that the committee set up to determine death in such cases would include three doctors and three rabbis, including one who is also a doctor. Rabbi Gafni suggested that of the three doctors, one should also be required to be a rabbi.

He said the only crucial part of the law is the paragraph stating that any family who objects to having their brain- dead loved one be declared dead in contradiction to their conscience or religious convictions could reject the physician's determination. In such cases, said Rabbi Gafni, they should have the right to demand medical care be continued. The legislation also states that physicians must inform the family they have an option not to accept the declaration of death based on brain death.

Rabbi Gafni concluded his speech before the Knesset by addressing the public and Am Yisroel in a moving plea, saying if they have a brain-dead family member in the hospital, "Please ask the doctors to continue full medical care for the patient until his complete recovery, or choliloh, cardiac arrest."

The bill, initiated by MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), was presented to the Knesset by Labor and Welfare Committee Chairman MK Itshac Galantee (Pensioners). According to the proposal, the following procedure would be used to declare a patient brain dead: the treating physician would notify family members that the patient may be in a state of brain- respiratory death. Then doctors with specialized training would be called in to conduct a battery of tests. If they determine the patient is indeed brain dead, the family would be authorized to receive the patient's medical records and the physician would inform the family of the possibility of consulting with a clergyman from the patient's religion. Following this procedure, if the family decides to stop treatment, it would be permitted to do so.

Physicians "authorized" to recommend disconnecting life- support would be selected by a committee appointed by the director-general of the Health Ministry. The committee would include ten members, including three doctors recommended by the Israel Medical Association, three rabbonim recommended by the Chief Rabbinate including one who is also a physician, an "ethicist," a philosopher and a jurist to be appointed by the High Court president. The committee would also be required to have one non-Jewish member.

The bill alters the current law, which only allows life- support to be disconnected in the event of cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.