Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Matters of Life and Death



The post yesterday on organ donation caused considerable consternation and led to a record-breaking seven votes of kefirah. I want to discuss it in more detail, but to break down the discussion into several topics and postings. In this post, I would like to address the charge that I was undermining the halachic process by making a decision on a life-and-death topic based on inadequate study and reasoning. The odd thing is that I specifically addressed this charge in the post, but people either ignored what I wrote or did not understand it.

Every single person makes a potentially life-and-death decision in this area. We have all either signed up to be an organ donor, or not. Either way, it has consequences that could mean the difference between life and death. Not signing up means that your organs will not be donated to a needy recipient, which could mean that a person who would otherwise have lived, will die.

So we have ALL effectively made potential life-and-death decisions in this area. The question is, what was the grounds for our decision? Shev v'al ta'aseh is sometimes a halachic verdict even in life-and-death situations - but where it is so, it is a halachic verdict of what to do (i.e. nothing) based upon an analysis.

Ideally, we would all be competent at making halachic decisions, and we would all have the time, knowledge and skills to be able to research this topic thoroughly from both a halachic and medical standpoint. Unfortunately, that is not the case for most of us - including me. So in the meanwhile, we make the decisions based on what we have. I made it clear that I was NOT issuing a formal conclusion based on my usual careful research, which I have not yet done and may never get around to doing, but rather I was explaining my reasoning for the way in which I reached my decision in the interim.

I would bet that most readers here have not signed up to be a donor, not because they have investigated the issue and concluded that it is halachically wrong based on sufficient investigation, but because they've never given it thought. I do not consider that to be adequate grounds for a potential life-and-death decision. And if those people then criticize me for reaching a decision based upon insufficient knowledge or research - well, the hypocrisy is appalling.

Now, some of us, instead of making our own evaluation of the halachic propriety of being an organ donor, follow a halachic authority. But this, too, is making a decision - the decision of which halachic authority to follow. There are halachic authorities who permit and encourage organ donation, and there are those that prohibit it. Even if a person has one halachic authority that he consistently follows (which is the ideal scenario), he is still making a decision as to which halachic authority to choose in the first place. And with a topic such as this, there is a broad correlation between the hashkafic orientation of the Posek and his decision in this area. For example, a Posek who is closed to the idea of Chazal/ Rishonim/ Acharonim being mistaken in science, will not say that these authorities based their decision on a mistaken understanding of the role of the heart. If you have reason to suspect that Chazal may have been mistaken in this area, and you follow the pesak of a Rav who is closed to this possibility, then you are effectively making a decision that you yourself have reason to suspect is incorrect.

Life is complicated. We have to make important decisions all the time, very often based on wholly inadequate information. This is one such case for me, and I am explaining the factors involved in my own choice (which I shall discuss in more detail in future posts; there were some unfortunate misunderstandings of these factors). But everyone is making a choice - and those who disagree with the way in which I make my decision, are welcome to explain and justify the grounds for their own decision. I suspect that many people would not be able to justify their decision - either way - against a sustained critique.

(On a different note - If anyone is traveling to Israel from the US and can bring something for me, please email me at zoorabbi@zootorah.com!)

58 comments:

  1. Rabbi Slifkin -- go re-read your two posts on this topic -- they are NOT saying the same thing.

    In the second one you are just saying you are follow Posekim who are more in line with your ideological world view. I think that is fine. A MO Jew doesn't have to follow Satmar Posekim on matters of Tznius or Israel. In the first one you are explaining why you feel the normal Halachic system does not apply (to you) in this case -- see your reasons a and b there.

    And in your second post your comments on "Shev v'al ta'aseh" are simply incorrect. It DOES apply in cases where there is uncertainty -- not only as a decision based on analysis -- it equally applies when based on doubt. You are simply factually wrong on this one -- go do a DB search in Sifrei Posekim on "Shev v'al ta'aseh" and you will see you are wrong (which is itself the danger of your uninformed, ideologically based decision making).

    And therefore you are wrong about other people -- because I think many people DID think about it and made a decision. The decision in this situation is either to: 1)Follow a Posek 2)Realize that because of the severity of this decision it is best not to do -- which IS Halachically sound. What you describe in the first post isn't. The second post is more Halachically sound -- because as there are Posekim on both sides -- but your comments are still flawed.

    Previousaly you asked where you don't see or admit your flaws and bias. Go re-read your two posts honestly and you will see.

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  2. Well, I wouldnt worry about a few kefirah votes. In our 2-Jews-3-opinions world it is to be expected. But possibly this is based simply on ignorance. Perhaps the kannoiyim thought you were breaking new ground by discussing the brain death v. heart stoppage def of death. Of course, this is all old news. It was a hot topic with RMD Tendler 15-20 years ago, especially when the newest volume of I. Moshe came out. Alteh Toireh. Like Lakewood, YU and Artscroll, HODS has plenty of supporters and plenty of opponents.

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  3. I also have the "donor" stamp on my driver's license. I understand that my body may be put on a heart and lung machine until any viable organs can be harvested & I understand that my body will then be disconnected from that same machine.

    I also want to say that until very recently, I've been working with profoundly disabled people. I advocate 100% for the right to life...even though it is very costly in dollars. But every person I've met...no matter how profoundly the brain has been damaged... could not be mistaken for a dead person. Each of these people have [from lack of a better term] an IQ [intelligence quotient]. This is completely different from a "Brain Dead" reading.

    For me, this informs my wife and her halachic authorities what medical care to provide me, l'hatchila, so that my body will be in the best physical and halachic condition to donate any viable organs upon my imminent death. Of course, my posek is knowledgeable about medical halacha, a good thinker, and zealous to find out any pertinent information needed to make a decision. It might be important to provide my l'hatchila decision as an organ donor as I could not do it bidieved;-)

    By the way, my shul actively promotes organ donation.....while people are still alive! Yes, many of us have signed up as potential kidney donors as part of a shul activity. Some have already donated.

    It's a great blessing that, in these days, we can be dead and simultaneously "choose life" for another person via a l'hatchila decision.

    Gary Goldwater

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  4. Can you PLEASE start putting what these abbreviations mean??? RNS, RMD, MN, HODS, etc. It's nice that your regulars know all of it but not all of us do.

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  5. For those living in Israel:
    To sign up to ADI online in Hebrew:

    http://forms.gov.il/globalData/GetSequence/getHtmlForm.aspx?formType=ADI@moh.health.gov.il

    To sign up by Fax in English:
    http://www.health.gov.il/transplant/card_eng.htm

    It is a very short form, you will receive the card within a couple of weeks. What are you waiting for?

    You don't need to decide your opinion on Brain Death to sign up for ADI or HODS. This is for everyone on both sides of the debate.
    (Of course from the organ donation perspective brain death definition makes more organs available)

    While the brain death issue is a major one, I don't understand why people are delaying signing up for HODS/ADI because of it.

    If you're not sure about brain death, meanwhile:
    For HODS either choose the rabbinical approval option or choose cessation of heart....

    For ADI:
    Choose rabbinical approval.

    Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for bringing the issue to discussion. I saw your picture up at the HODS sight.

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  6. And in your second post your comments on "Shev v'al ta'aseh" are simply incorrect. It DOES apply in cases where there is uncertainty -- not only as a decision based on analysis -- it equally applies when based on doubt.

    I'm well aware of that. But, as I understand it, that is only in cases where the doubt is one that occurs AFTER a halachic analysis - it's not applied to cases where someone simply doesn't care to find out what to do. If I am mistaken about this, I will gladly be corrected.

    Also, applying "shev v'al ta'aseh" is STILL a decision, with potentially extremely severe consequences.

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  7. I think there are many poskim who hold Chazal could make mistakes in science, and yet do not recognize brain death as a legitimate halachic definition of death. Take a poll of the rebbeim at YU, for example. I doutb you'll find much correlation.

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  8. Perhaps the cause of the extreme reaction to the previous post was due to the fact that it was not 100% clear in the previous post that Rabbi Slifkin’s FIRST decision was to follow reliable poskim who ruled on the halachic details of this matter and allow or advocate for organ donation and that only after that, the SECOND part of his decision process was to choose those poskim who ruled in favor of organ donation, for the reasons he explained above.

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  9. I think this is a very important discussion to be having. I have wondered about this issue every time I hear about it discussed in the news, but life is busy and it just becomes one of those things on my very long “To Do” list that never gets done. Having come from Chareidi circles to a more MO outlook in the past few years on almost all other issues in frumkeit, I have no excuse for not attending to this important issue. After all, if it can potentially save a life, the fact that I didn’t get around to looking into it not a very good excuse, at least not in my books.

    Maybe because this decision forces us to think about that “what if” question of something unexpected happening to us, it makes us more psychologically resistant to thinking about it. Does everyone with small children have a legal will deciding who would raise their children if (G-d forbid) something happens to both parents (car accident, etc)? What if you don’t like your brother, but he would be the one to get custody of your kids in such a scenario, etc? Uch! Who wants to think about those kinds of things?! Not me. I’d rather pay the bills, pick up the dry cleaning, and take care of every other detail of mundane and immediate concern than think about end-of-my-life issues. And I’m not alone in this regard. We humans don’t like to think about our own death.

    So it’s much easier to think about other people’s deaths and criticize those who have given the subject not only a second thought, but have taken the action needed to make a personal determination. Rabbi Slifkin thought about it, saw that there were reliable poskim on both sides of the issue, and went along with relying on the poskim on one side of the issue for the reasons he detailed in his previous post. Then he took the next step and followed through with his decision, got the application, filled it out, mailed it, etc. Rabbi Slifkin’s sharing his decision with us should be more of a reminder for us that this is something we all have a responsibility to think about and come to a decision on. And I personally want to thank him for this important reminder. I just put looking into, deciding, and taking action (whatever it may be) on organ donation into the top 10 things on my “To Do” list. To be honest, I don’t want to think about it or deal with it, but I have a responsibility to. Thank you Rabbi Slifkin for the important reminder.

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  10. I think there are many poskim who hold Chazal could make mistakes in science, and yet do not recognize brain death as a legitimate halachic definition of death.

    DES - Even if they hold that Chazal could make mistakes in science, they might not realize that Chazal's view of physiology was that the heart houses the mind.

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  11. There are 7 of us who left comments, and only 1 vote on the Emes/Kefira tally.

    Am I the only one who votes?

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  12. I agree with your approach here. But I have another question. Chazal were misinformed about some natural science issues. But is it necessarily against Orthodox halachic and hashkafic approaches to argue that Chazal were also mistaken about certain psychological truths? For example, Chazal say that women cannot read from the Torah because it offends the honor of the congregation. But today, this would not offend people's honor, so should we hold by this? Similarly, the Gemara says a women's voice, kol isha, is nakeness, and for this reason men can't hear women sing. But if we know that men today are not stimulated by the sound of a woman signing (perhaps this can be empirically demonstrated?), can we then disregard the ruling? I know there is one minority opinion saying women's singing is allowed as long as the lyrics are not sexual. Can modern findings of psychology (or even contemporary "common sense") be used to adopt the minority view or disregard a ruling of the Sages, even if this goes against centuries of near halachic consensus?

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  13. I suspect the real crux of the debate has less to do with the science & halachic disputation on when death occurs; and, more to do with a deeper belief in some circles of bodily resurrection.

    Obviously, the selfish stakes are higher if you believe that you will be resurrected without a heart, or kidneys or eyes, etc.

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  14. Everyone, please remember the commenting rules. Anonymous comments are not posted; use your real name (preferably) or a pseudonym.

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  15. I can only say that my wife is a doctor who has worked in multiple hospitals in both the USA and Israel and she refuses to sign up or for me to sign up for organ donation based on what she's seen from the inside of the system. I'm not at liberty to elaborate beyond that.

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  16. Regarding the issue of an individual deciding which opinions to follow, i recall when i was in Yeshivah, one of my friends was killed in a terrorist attack and his family was prepared to donate his organs.

    They wanted to rely on the psak of Rav Shapirah and asked my Rosh Yeshivah. He himself was mesupak whether cessation of brain activity is defined as death and yet told them that if it is defined as death, then it is a mitzvah to donate. He said to them that they could follow the opinion of Rav Shapirah despite his own reservations on the matter!

    He had the sensitivity to allow the family to decide despite his own halachic reservations (knowing that they had on what to rely on).

    This hilights one of the fundamental differences between the Charedi (black and white) and MO (grey) worlds. Does the posek create the halachic reality for me or do i create the halachic reality with the guidance of the posek?

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  17. I don't understand the stance taken by some leading poskim that death is defined by heart cessation. The primary source for the talmudic determination of death is T.B. Yoma 85a. There the key determination that a victim is still alive is whether the victim buried by a falling wall on shabbat is still breathing. While there is an alternative opinion that requires uncovering the heart to listen for a heartbeat, the gemara appears to reject that view in favor of the breathing criterion. That is the view taken by the Rambam in hilchot shabbat 2:19 and the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 329:4. In fact, the latter source suggests that even if the heart is uncovered first (and presumably not found to be beating) one must still uncover the nostrils to see if breathing still occurs.

    If spontaneous breathing ceases(there is no evidence that artificial respiration was used in talmudic times) then the person is declared officially to be dead. In modern times, resuscitation technology has advanced to the point where the simple cessation of breathing doesn't necessarily imply death - if the period of such cessation isn't too long. However, if brain activity is found to have totally ceased - particularly brain stem activity, then spontaneous breathing and other brain controlled activities will not return. If the respirator is turned off and there is no indication of breathing, the person, it seems to me, can then be declared dead both on medical and talmudic grounds. It shouldn't matter that the heart still beats for a while after the respirator is turned off. That beating is controlled by a pacemaker in the heart - rather than by the brain stem. It will continue as long as oxygenated blood is supplied by a machine. If one waits until the heart spontaneously ceases to beat, the decomposition of organs may have occurred to the point where transplantation will not succeed.

    My objective in this essay is certainly not to attempt to decide the issue since I am not qualified to make such a determination. It is merely an attempt to solicit a rationale for the heartbeat criterion and to defend R' Natan against some of his critics.

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  18. @IH - More likely, what's going on is the use of halacha for post-facto justification. Those who oppose organ donation do so because their community dictates their norms, taboos, etc. Those who support organ donation do so because their conscience tells them its the right thing to do. Then both dress their feelings in halachic talk in order to justify their position to others.

    Truth be told, all three have a place: conscience, norms and halacha. But if you're going to talk halacha, then halacha should be informing, not justifying. We then weigh that information along with conscious and normative inputs and make a decision.

    This at least makes it an honest process, without all the "dress-up".

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  19. RS, u keep repeating the rule but I see tons of anonymous comments. Whom is this rule for?

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  20. 'I can only say that my wife is a doctor who has worked in multiple hospitals in both the USA and Israel and she refuses to sign up or for me to sign up for organ donation based on

    what she's seen from the inside of the system. I'm not at liberty to elaborate beyond'

    Do u expect us to take u at your word? These r issues of life and death! You have a responsibility to expose the improprieties. U have no credibility in my eyes. Whar r u afraid of?

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  21. Rabbi,

    I think there is a more simple question which id like to open up.

    Are there poskim,(and if there are, a fair amount) who say its a CHIYUV and it would be a issur not to sign up for this organ donor card?

    And there are obviously many poskim who hold it is assur to sign up for it.

    So if the answer to the first question is NO(there are not poskim) or a very small minority, then would it not make more sense even from the standpoint of halacha to be machmir and NOT sign up for it because many poskim say it is assur? as opposed to not signing up for it which may not be an obligation at all.

    I hope my question is clear. If not please let me know as I think it is important.

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  22. So do I understand that you are saying you haven't done the research, choosing a single poseik is still a matter of choice and
    1. you haven't chosen a single poseik so here you can choose amongst the various opinions
    or
    2. you have chosen a single poseik and he has told you to pick from the opinions or
    3. you have a single poseik but here you haven't asked him but rather chosen among the opinions
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  23. You have a responsibility to expose the improprieties. U have no credibility in my eyes. Whar r u afraid of?

    Please use proper English.

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  24. if the answer to the first question is NO(there are not poskim) or a very small minority, then would it not make more sense even from the standpoint of halacha to be machmir and NOT sign up for it because many poskim say it is assur?

    No! Pascal's Wager is not used with halachah. If it was, there would be a gazillion things that would be prohibited. Also, even if organ donation is not a chiyuv, it's certainly saving lives - no small matter!

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  25. So do I understand that you are saying you haven't done the research, choosing a single poseik is still a matter of choice

    It is preferable to have a single poseik. But sometimes there are different factors. Personally, the rav that I usually ask questions to has a different epistemology than me which would be relevant in this case, regarding Chazal's knowledge of science.

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  26. I sent this comment yesterday - I'm not sure why it wasn't posted, so I'll send again.

    Rabbi Slifkin - you seem to be presenting this as a "life or death situation" in which signing the card is the "life" choice and refusing to sign the card is the "death" choice. But this is entirely ignoring viewing the situation from the point of view of the donor.

    You admit that you haven't entirely researched the issue, and therefore have not come to a definitive conclusion that brain death is definitely death. Therefore, I would think the analysis would be the following: If brain death is in fact not death, and you (wrongfully) sign the card, then you are causing the doctor to remove the organs of a living person, thereby causing his death - i.e., he is violating the extremely strict prohibition against murder, and you are violating the ancillary prohibition of "lifnei iver" (which, in the case of facilitating someone to commit murder, may be as strict as murder itself, but is at a minimum, an active violation of a biblical prohibition). On the other hand, if in fact brain death is death and you (wrongfully) do not sign the card, then the only prohibition you are violating is the passive prohibition of "lo ta'amod al dam re'echa".

    Based on this analysis, I don't see how anyone with even an iota of a doubt as to whether brain death is death can, in good conscience, sign this card and risk being involved in the extremely strict prohibition against murder.

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  27. "No! Pascal's Wager is not used with halachah. If it was, there would be a gazillion things that would be prohibited. Also, even if organ donation is not a chiyuv, it's certainly saving lives - no small matter!"

    Rabbi,

    But if noone(or not many) poskim are telling you that you have to, but you have many poskim saying you are not allowed, I dont see why EVEN if saving lives is a big matter(which it is), KILLING lives is as big or worse!

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  28. No! Pascal's Wager is not used with halachah.
    ==========================
    Isn't a weaker form in use-e.g. the brisker prediliction for being yotzeh lchol hadeyot?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  29. I'll sign the card just not to end up like Sharon. This ain't living in my book. Let them take my kishkes for people who can benefit and let me rest in piece.
    That's my free choice. In that state you cannot do any mitzvos so what the point of vegetating? In addition, all the money that would be used to keep me alive can be used for people who need real care. I did not ask any Rabbi because this very poshut to me.
    RS, pls post something on Rambam.

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  30. "Let them take my kishkes for people who can benefit and let me rest in piece."

    Carol - I don't know if you purposely meant to spell "piece" that way, but it's pretty funny, given the context.

    On a serious note, when you said you didn't ask a poseik because it's poshut to you - please realize that part of the issue of being a Torah observant Jew, in my opinion, is knowing what you do and do not know. One has the right, I think, to rely on one's own de'ah if s/he has exhausted all of the relevant sources, analyzed them carefully and soundly, and is not in contradiction with the positions of Chazal. If you've done all that, then great. If not, then it's not so poshut.

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  31. 'being a Torah observant Jew, in my opinion, is knowing what you do and do not know.'
    Says who? I've never heard this one before. Your sources please.
    Rambam thinks that being a Jew is acquiring knowledge of G-d. This is accomplished by means of Torah and Mizvos and the study of true science. The practical expression of this knowledge is zdaka, chesed and mishpat. Now being a donor fits in well with this approach.

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  32. Tom, I am not sure you understood me right. I don't want to live on a respirator. It's pashut to me that this is not life but anti everything that life is about for me. Now, if someone prefers it to natural end it is their choice. This is really not an issue to me. I am not interested in studying this subject until I 'exhaust all the relevant sources' nor do I have the knowledge to do so. Besides, I don't think anybody knows what is life or death for certain in the context discussed here. To me life is thinking good thoughts and doing good deeds. If I cannot do either I want to be out of here. And if it benefits people who are left behind they can 'harvest' whatever they want and bury the rest of me. This is a good death. I'll tell you the truth but please don't laugh - the very thought is exiting to me. See Rambam's explanation of misas neshika - they were happy to leave this world. Ayen shom.

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  33. 'Based on this analysis, I don't see how any one with even an iota of a doubt as to whether brain death is death can, in good conscience, sign this card and risk being involved in the extremely strict prohibition against murder'

    I think that pretty soon the advances in medicine will enable hundreds of thousands to be kept alive on respirators. Then the society will pull the plug on everybody who cannot pay to play. So I would not get bogged down in minutiae. Instead I try to see the big picture i.e the ethics of the issue.

    Are you forgetting that thee are poskim that allow donating organs?

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  34. abbi,

    But if noone(or not many) poskim are telling you that you have to, but you have many poskim saying you are not allowed, I dont see why EVEN if saving lives is a big matter(which it is), KILLING lives is as big or worse!

    Maybe it's the same reason that the policemen that chose to try to save the prison guards caught in the fire stayed behind? Torah/human values? Maybe it goes to your core? Anyway, the answer to your question is in the posts. Ayen shom.

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  35. Carol,

    Issues about "life and death" (R' Slifkin's title) or "killing" could belong to a mitsvat lo ta'aseh (lo tirtsach) OR to a mitsvat aseh (kidush hashem hagadol), which is the "parent" of all davar katan (meta). The idea you express as "human values" and "goes to your core" seems to me to be "closer" to kidush hashem hagadol.

    Is this approximately what you are saying?

    Thank you.

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  36. I don't grasp what you are saying. It's too high for me. But what I am saying is that I just want to be normal and not twisted. Life on a respirator is not normal. IMO.

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  37. The concern about possibly being guilty of murder by signing an organ donor pledge card appears to be misplaced. Offering your body to save others is saving lives, not murder. The poskim who consider a total and irreversible loss of all brain function to be an inadequate indication of death - as long as the heart beats, may claim that the surgeons removing organs from such a person are guilty of manslaughter. The one who offered those organs in such circumstances is certainly not guilty of a serious offense, however. At most, according to the viewpoint of those poskim, he would be guilty of aiding those who would remove his organs after 'brain death'. Why should "lifnei iveir"override "lo ta'amod al dam reiacha"? Why is organ donation more problematic than someone who falls on a grenade to save his fellows? In some circumstances, it is even a mitzvah to surrender one's life to save others.

    Of course, the would-be donor must be convinced that all efforts at saving him would have been exhausted and that his brain function is irreversibly gone. I suspect that this consideration represents the leading obstacle for those who aren't swayed by popular rabbinic opinion about the criterion for death.

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  38. ' OR to a mitsvat aseh (kidush hashem hagadol), which is the "parent" of all davar katan (meta).'

    Hogan, can you please explain to me this piece of rocket science?

    Also, for a third time can someone explain to me what is IIRC?

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  39. It's quite remarkable that Rambam in Moreh (I:39) explains 'lev' as shem meshutaf that sometimes means center of life in the body, center of emotions or the mind. There is more great things there. Ayen shom!

    I don't think one can learn halacha from these psukim. I think it's dibra Torah cilson bnei adam.

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  40. Why is organ donation more problematic than someone who falls on a grenade to save his fellows? In some circumstances, it is even a mitzvah to surrender one's life to save others.

    Well, to jump on a grenade in a battle is not the same as pulling a plug on your mother. But this not my point. I agree with your position.

    Rambam explains in Moreh(II:48) that the first level in preparation for prophecy is a desire to save an individual or a group of people from injustice. A person on this level feels an urge to oppose injustice and do good. Moshe Rabbenu had developed this trait early on in his life and it had become part of his personality. This is why he killed the mizri and intervened on behalf of bnos Yisro. I think that these are the values that prompt some of us to want to donate organs. It just feels right. Rambam explains that this is the meaning of ruach hashem. Ayen shom.
    In addition, donating organs fulfills our desire for immortality. After we are gone parts of us are alive. Bemoseinu tzivanu lahem es hachaim!

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  41. Carol:
    IIRC means 'If I remember correctly.'

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  42. RS and DLZ thanks. I was thinking it was some kind of roshei teivos but it just e-mailese.

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  43. Lawrence Kaplan Comments:

    Carol : You meant Guide 2:45. Also, technically, the first two levels listed there are subprophetic.

    It is a pleasure to encounter a genuine Maimonidean as yourself.

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  44. Also, technically, the first two levels listed there are subprophetic

    This exactly what I meant when I said: 'the first level in preparation for prophecy'. This why we can achieve it.

    Thanks for the compliment but I consider myself a wannabe until I understand Rambam's explanation of maaseh bereishis and maasei merkova. It's a challenge and I am working on it. I think very few people understand it, just see SHADAL's attack on Rambam at the beginig of Bereishis. He completely missed it and he was great. He figured out Kabbalah but not Rambam! I also feel I have to learn it in the original. One cannot be an expert on Shakespear without knowing English, lehavdil.

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  45. Carol,

    "' OR to a mitsvat aseh (kidush hashem hagadol), which is the "parent" of all davar katan (meta).'

    ... [C]an you please explain to me this piece of rocket science?"


    Maybe I can explain it; I would enjoy to try. The explanation will be probably quite long and quite off the topic of donating organs, so please e-mail me (see my Blogger profile). (Kidush hashem hagadol is in Vayikra 22, which is not easy, at least for me.)

    Maybe it can be hard, but not like "rocket science". Instead, it could be hard like teaching someone to ride a bicycle only by text-message. My father, ע"ה, taught me 90% of this mitsva when I was a child, just like he taught me to ride a bicycle: by his example and by musar. (I think he learned in the Shoah.)

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  46. Hogan, please note that Rambam explains that the chocma yevonis that Chasal banned was talking in riddles. Ayen shom.

    I will e-mail you even though you come across very condescending.

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  47. I am sorry, the anonymous replying to Lawrence Kaplan was me, Carol.

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  48. Carol, the analogy of falling on a grenade to donating organs in case of confirmed brain death is imperfect, but not for the reason you cited. The subject of the post is organ donation, not "when to pull the plug". The latter case is more comparable to one in which someone threatened with death by a would-be murderer if he doesn't reveal the hiding place of associates calls a rav for advice. The rav tells him that halacha requires that he be prepared to sacrafice himself and not place the lives of others in jeopardy. In this case, the one refusing to betray his associates is praised for his sacrafice, while the rav merely followed the dictates of halacha. So, too, the family of your case, is not blameworthy if they believed the patient to be 'brain dead' and believed that they were following the wishes of the patient. This is one of those extremely difficult decisions in life that many or most of us will face, either as the patient or the next of kin. Given that the halacha is not as clear as one would like nor may the wishes of the patient, often it is a matter of intuition in making a "pull the plug" decision.

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  49. Hmm....I am taking my words back.

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  50. Haroeh es hanolad said...
    "Are you forgetting that thee are poskim that allow donating organs?"

    I have no problem with poskim who have researched the issue and have come to the conclusion that brain death is death. But I do have a problem with someone saying that they have not fully researched the issue but believe that the "safe" route is to sign the card, ignoring the possibility that your research may end up showing that it is either definitely or possibly murder.

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  51. It's not the "safe" route - it's the preferred route.

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  52. 'But I do have a problem with someone saying that they have not fully researched the issue but believe that the "safe" route is to sign the card, ignoring the possibility that your research may end up showing that it is either definitely or possibly murder'
    The poskim did the research and we are relying on them. I cannot rely on my halachic research for anything. I am not a talmid chochom or a posek. I don't understand your problem with this.

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  53. Carol wrote: "This is a good death. I'll tell you the truth but please don't laugh - the very thought is exiting to me. "

    Haha, a freudian slip perhaps. (I know you meant exciting, though). Your posts are great, Carol!

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  54. People keep saying that it's possibly murder. Isn't it, according to their view of things whereby their logic is that brain death is not death, actually a danger of possible suicide by signing one of these cards, rather than murder? According to their logic, anyway...

    Or they are really concerned about the neshamas of the holy doctors who will perform the surgeries and therefore want to prevent them from sinning? But are they guilty in such a scenario? Or is the card-signer completely guilty. Inquiring minds would like to know.

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  55. Again, I have no problem with poskim who did the research and concluded that brain death is death. I also have no problem with people who rely on poskim who say that brain death is death. I do have a problem with what Rabbi Slifkin is claiming, that he is not simply relying on other poskim, and he intends to do his own independent research into the issue, but until he gets around to it, he thinks the safe (or preferred) route is to sign the card, while his research might end up showing that this course of action is actually murder/facilitating murder/suicide (take your pick - I don't mean to quibble about exactly which serious prohibition might be violated - it might be all of these or some or, as I've said, none of these). Especially since his entire rationale for this decision is based on a vague notion that he apparently created out of thin air with no sources whatsoever that somehow, the issue is related to which organ in the body chazal thought houses the soul.

    I normally agree entirely with what Rabbi Slifkin posts on this blog, but I think that on these posts about organ donation, he's way off. (On a related matter, while I disagree entirely, I don't think it's guite kefira, which is why I haven't checked the box. I think if you want a more accurate reading of agree/disagree or like/dislike, you should use a less-loaded term.)

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  56. er - I wouldn't call my point about Chazal's belief on the heart "a vague notion created out of thin air with no sources" - see my new essay on kidneys. Also, don't forget that I also formed my opinion based on the analysis of Rabbi Dr. Rationalist Medical Halachist. His analysis of this issue made 100% sense to me, and I know him personally and respect him immensely as a talmid chacham and scholar.

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  57. And by the way, the worst case scenario is that I've committed suicide and in doing so, have saved the lives of several people.

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  58. Er, tell us please what's your take on organ donation and why?

    Tnx

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