Author Archives: Steven Resnicoff

Symposium on the Ethics of Brain Death and Organ Donation: VIII

Professor Steven H. Resnicoff / If someone who is brain dead is halachically alive, a matter of significant halachic debate, secular adoption of the brain death standard could, in a number of ways, lead to the murder of Jews and non-Jews. A goses is someone who is dying and is imminently terminal. His life is likened to the flame of a flickering candle. It is forbidden to touch or move such a person for any purpose other than to help the goses, lest such touching or movement extinguish the flame. According to some rabbinic decisors, including R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, people on respirators who are believed to be brain dead have the halachic status of safek goses, to whom these prohibitions would apply. Nevertheless, upon a finding of brain death, secular law would allow a hospital certain rights such as to cease treatment or to extract organs. Consequently, the hospital conducts tests to determine whether the patient is or is not brain dead. Such testing is not designed to benefit the patient who is tested, but in order to authorize the giving of his organs—or his hospital bed—to someone else. According to R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, these tests, either because they inevitably involve some touching or movement of the patient, or because they involve the injection of radioactive material (even small amounts, and even through existing intravenous lines), are absolutely prohibited and involve possible murder.

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