Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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8 Adar I 5768 - February 14, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Defending The Sanctity Of Life As Defined By Halochoh

By Rabbi N.Z. Grossman

A newly tabled law that proposes recognizing "brain death" as the death of the person, thus allowing detachment from life sustaining machinery and the removal of organs, is a worrying development. It raises the specter of serious breaches of halochoh in life and death situations, possibly involving murder.

Sadly, the law's proponents are misleading the public with their claim that the gedolei haTorah support it — this is a provocative distortion. Knesset member Rabbi Moshe Gafni protested against the law, at a meeting of rabbonim held last week. Rabbi Gafni pointed out that HaRav Y.S. Eliashiv's instructions were to oppose the law, since, according to halochoh, as long as a person's heart continues beating he is considered to be alive in every respect and it is absolutely forbidden to interrupt any medical procedure. In consequence, the Degel Hatorah party decided it would oppose the law.

In a letter from HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l and ylct'a HaRav Eliashiv, issued in 5751, they wrote, "We have been asked to give our opinion as to the Torah's view on transplanting the heart or other organs into a patient whose life is at risk, while the donor's heart is beating and his brain, including the brain stem is nonfunctioning — which is known as "brain death." In our opinion, there is no license whatsoever for removing any organ. Doing so involves murder."

Owing to this new danger, which is an attempt to distort the approach of Torah and halochoh, HaRav Eliashiv wrote a further letter yesterday. "I hereby reiterate my opinion, which I put on record on the eighteenth of Menachem Av 5751, that according to our holy Torah, as long as the heart beats, even though the patient has suffered brain death, there is no license whatsoever to remove any organ from his body. May Hashem yisborach repair our nation's breaches."

It is superfluous to add that once our teachers have publicly expressed their opinion of the Torah's view regarding the serious prohibition involved in such procedures, there is no place for debate or discussion. This puts the insufferable irresponsibility in evidence in recent years, in the unceasing attempts to bring the matter up for discussion in order to show that it is supposedly not settled, in a very serious light. There have also been calls for "flexibility in halochoh," in the interests of "adapting halochoh to the modern world." Anyone possessing a smattering of knowledge spouts his "scholarly opinion" and produces "halachic studies" on the subject, to his heart's content. Every observant Jew knows however, that the gedolei hador alone have the right to decide such questions, particularly such serious life and death ones.

This is why it has always been the practice of our Torah leaders, to convey their halachic rulings briefly and succinctly, as the above letters do, without going into their reasoning or proofs. This makes it clear that there is no room for discussion.

It is worth mentioning that when the controversy over organ transplants began, HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l, wrote a teshuvoh in which he warned about the irresponsibility prevalent in medical circles in this area, involving practices that are forbidden because of murder, R'l. In the same teshuvoh (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Dei'ah vol. II, siman 174) Reb Moshe strongly warns against creating a false impression that the subject is open to discussion. Halochoh's verdict on the subject must thus be enunciated briefly and unambiguously, so as not to leave the slightest room for maneuver on the part of those who wish to act irresponsibly. "I do not want to write at length giving proofs, reasoning and discussion," Reb Moshe writes, "for I maintain that anyone furthering discussion and citing additional proofs is causing harm, for it gives the impression that proofs are necessary because the matter is not all that straightforward. People will end up acting leniently, saying that the arguments are refutable. Even though their ideas are worthless they will already have had a weakening effect and will say that opinion is divided amongst the rabbonim themselves, making it possible to act leniently, chas vesholom. When issuing a practical halachic ruling, I am therefore clear and decisive, leaving no room for debate or discussion."

This why, although in his teshuvoh for rabbonim, talmidei chachomim and those who respect halochoh, Reb Moshe explains the reasoning and proofs behind his negative ruling, for the public, he states briefly and concisely that he forbids any transplant that may involve murder. He ends with the words, "This is the response that should be published, in these words, nothing less and nothing more . . ."

It is unnecessary to dwell on the Torah community's high sensitivity to the obligation to "live with them" (Vayikra 18:5) i.e. to cling to life through practicing the mitzvos, and to the G-d given duty of avoiding any activity that may endanger human life. How much more does this apply to an attempt to cause the hastening of death. We must be on our guard in any case where a patient chas vesholom reaches such a position, demanding that full treatment continues being administered and not allowing chas vesholom, any injury to the patient or interruption of treatment, so long as the heart continues beating.

It is no secret that in the world at large and in the secular community, there are periodical displays of crass insensitivity to the sanctity of life, such as the shocking practice of euthanasia, or "mercy" killing. The momentum of modern medical progress has brought about so many far- reaching innovations, which by and large, in Heaven's kindness, manage to help patients whose conditions were once incurable. Sadly though, it knows no barrier or measures of self-restraint in certain areas, such as the removal of organs from a living donor, thereby hastening their death, or even murdering them, R'l.

By publishing the ruling of gedolei Yisroel, Yated Ne'eman continues voicing the view of Torah and halochoh in opposition to such dangerous initiatives, serving as the central mouthpiece for the Torah world and the G-d fearing community, who are at the forefront of the campaign to preserve the sanctity of life, in accordance with halochoh. We hope that this dangerous law, which opens the door to the murder of patients, lo aleinu, will pass into oblivion — the sooner the better.

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