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May The Brain Death ‘Controversy’ Die A Dignified Death


A very undemocratic viewpoint, I know, but one I heard echoed many years ago in a class by a great rabbi. One of the students commented that the Taz appeared more correct to him regarding a particular halacha. The Rav quickly responded, “The Shach is not losing any sleep” because you agree with the Taz.

One cannot simply vote and count up how many people think or feel a specific opinion is correct in the brain death controversy – it is an exercise in futility, even if all the voters have the title Rabbi or Doctor in front of their name. While politicians may do this (“acharei rabbim lehatos” in last week’s parshah), it does not mean we should poll the electorate and pasken accordingly.

It is especially sad to see individuals state that the gedolim quoted in the RCA paper (some of whom are my rebbeim; rabbonim of great wisdom and humility with whom I have personally discussed medical and halachic shailos in depth) do not possess the medical knowledge or access to such. With all due respect, having heard numerous medical misstatements by rabbonim and other halachic lecturers, neither “side” has expertise the other side doesn’t.

It is a diminution of kavod shamayim for anyone to automatically assume, simply based upon a Ph.D. or other degree, that either side of this machlokes leshaim shamayim has knowledge the other side lacks. There are simply clear halachic differences of opinion. Each rav (and layperson) should use his posek (or rav) to answer such lema’asseh shailos as they unfortunately occur.

Why are acrimony and chillul Hashem part of this conversation? Who let the Satan into our batei midrash? Why and under what halachic basis are we allowed to incite Jews and non-Jews against those who halachically disagree with us?

May it be the will of Hashem that the brain death “controversy” die a dignified death, and that the subject not be halacha lema’aseh but just lehagdil Torah uleha’adira.

Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD, is president/CEO and professor of medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, New York, and assistant rabbi at Congregation Anshei Chesed and the Young Israel of Woodmere.A magid shiurfor many years and an internationally popular lecturer on medical ethics and other halachic issues, he is the author of “Visiting the Sick” (ArtScroll) and “Women in the Talmud.”

About the Author: Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD, is president/CEO and professor of medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, New York, and assistant rabbi at Congregation Anshei Chesed and the Young Israel of Woodmere.A magid shiurfor many years and an internationally popular lecturer on medical ethics and other halachic issues, he is the author of "Visiting the Sick" (ArtScroll) and "Women in the Talmud."


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There has been a bizarre, unfortunate and hurtful conversation taking place in the public domain (including every imaginable forum) regarding the halachic viewpoint on brain death.

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