Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Single-Bodied People

Here is a fascinating update to Sacred Monsters, as well as an important insight regarding the brain-death debate.

In the chapter in Sacred Monsters entitled "Two-Headed Men and other Mutants," I quoted the following Gemara (which Daf Yomi studied recently):
Pelemo asked of Rebbi: A person with two heads, on which of them should he place tefillin? Rebbi replied: Either go into exile, or accept excommunication! (Talmud, Menachos 37a)

While I discussed this passage at length in the book, there's an important observation that I missed until now. But first, some background.

One of the most important new articles in the brain-death debate is that by Dr. Noam Stadlan (freely available here). In brief, the argument runs as follows: The presence of a human being can be logically and empirically demonstrated to be located in the brain, and in the brain alone. Any other view results in contradictions and impossibilities. All other organs can be transplanted, and maintained outside of a body, without any notion of their being “alive.” Respiration and circulation of blood can be artificially produced in a corpse! It is only the neurological activity of the brain which creates the presence of a person. And when babies are born with extra appendages or organs, it is only when they have two heads that they are considered to be two persons.

(As I see it, the logical consequences of this for brain death are as follows. We see that the presence of a person thus equates to the presence of a brain. For those who wish to speak about the soul, while it is a nebulous concept, it is certainly housed in the mind, and thus the brain. Accordingly, the irreversible loss of the brain’s fundamental functions means that the person has died.)

Now, previously I have noted that while in general Chazal's rulings hold authority even if based upon mistaken scientific beliefs (as with lice), this is not the case in matters relating to the preservation of life. Analyzing scientific errors in the Gemara in such cases is not merely of academic interest, but is also relevant to those who would seek to base contemporary halachah on such sugyas. And so, while Dr. Stadlan is absolutely correct to state that when babies are born with extra appendages or organs, they are considered to be two persons when they have two heads - it should be noted that Chazal did not view it that way!

In my monograph The Question of the Kidneys' Counsel, I showed how Chazal believed that significant components of the mind are located in the chest cavity - in the heart, kidneys, and other innards - rather than in the brain. Accordingly, dicephalus twins — conjoined twins with a single trunk and one head — were regarded as a single person with two heads. We see this in the way that the Gemara presents the question mentioned above. The Gemara discusses the question of upon which head such a person (described in the singular!) should place tefillin. We today, on the other hand, would say that these are two people, both of whom are obligated to wear tefillin. It's not a two-headed person - they are single-bodied people. If you have any doubts about that, just watch this documentary about the amazing Hensel twins (note: I saw the first few minutes, and the girls do not conform to Orthodox standards of tzniut!):



There is another example of how Midrashic statements about dicephalus twins reflect the ancient belief that the mind and personhood is housed in the body. In Sacred Monsters, I cited a (presumably non-historical) Midrash which describes King Solomon as performing a test to determine if such twins are one person or two; when he discovers that one blindfolded head can sense heat applied to the skin of the other head, he concludes that they are a single person. But in fact, in all cases of dicephalus twins (and there are many), there are two brains and thus two separate nervous systems; thus, one head would never be able to sense what is happening to the other head. Dicephalus twins are two people sharing a single body, not one person with two heads.

Thus, those who attempt to determine the status of brain death from the Gemara - something which I have previously explained to be in any case inherently impossible, since the Gemara could never have addressed such a scenario - are also hampered by the fact that the Gemara sees personhood as being embodied in the functioning trunk, rather than in the brain. But we today can clearly assert that personhood is exclusively limited to the brain.

57 comments:

  1. and where do you draw the line between differing amounts of siamese twinhood (where poskim have said it is 2 )and one personhood of the two headed body?
    KT
    JoelRich

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  2. 1 brain = 1 person
    2 brains = two people

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  3. The only time we consider them siamese twins is if there is two heads or more. If there is only one head but any other defect they are not considered siamese twins, but a person with an extra limb or some other defect. I believe.

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  4. Not sure what can be proven from the case of the Hensel twins -- they have 2 hearts, so maybe that = two people. And 3 kidnyes ... = 1.5 people? Are there any cases where there is clearly only one set of internal organs?

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  5. The hears are in a shared circulatory system. And even if they only had one heart, they would certainly still be considered to be two people. Or, to put it another way - you could remove one of their hearts, and they may well still survive, and it wouldn't be murder!

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  6. sorry-I meant where chazal would draw the line?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  7. "Pelemo asked of Rebbi: A person with two heads, on which of them should he place tefillin? Rebbi replied: Either go into exile, or accept excommunication!"

    Could it be that Rebbi actually believed that such an unusual case was possible, but that he was upset at Pelemo for a different reason?
    This is only a tentative suggestion.

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  8. That is one sick video, I can't believe you posted that. The woman who birthed that freak of nature should be locked up. It's a huge statement for abortion.

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  9. Actually, Shmuly, many people would find your statement to be sick.

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  10. Suppose just one of the twins wants to become a giyeres?
    Implications?

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  11. I'm totally unfamiliar with this area. Do you have some citations of poskim who rule that conjoined twins are halachically two people?

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  12. About 7.5 years ago, I was waiting with one of my children at the pediatrician's and learning daf yomi. The physician asked me what i was learning and I somewhat sheepishly explained I was learning the sugya that discusses the tefillin of the two-headed person, and he became very animated and wanted a summary of the discussion and ruling. Turns out he had had such a patient years before.

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  13. I cited a (presumably non-historical) Midrash which describes King Solomon as performing a test to determine if such twins are one person or two; when he discovers that one blindfolded head can sense heat applied to the skin of the other head, he concludes that they are a single person. But in fact, in all cases of dicephalus twins (and there are many), there are two brains and thus two separate nervous systems; thus, one head would never be able to sense what is happening to the other head.

    This story isn't obviously non-historical. The primary issue is that they might be able to feel the other twin's movement enough to notice when one has a strong sensation such as heat. It wouldn't have been obvious to Solomon but in a pair of dicephalus twins each can sometimes get a good idea what the other one is sensing based on the other's subtle reactions. Moreover, it isn't implausible that this could occur even when they aren't consciously aware of it even as adults. (The motivating example for that though it is that for a long time, blind people who could navigate better than one would expect were thought to be feeling subtle wind currents on their faces, and they themselves thought this. It wasn't until the 1950s that experiments showed that they were actually using echolocation without realizing it.)

    (I have to also wonder if Rebbi's response was due to a belief that dicephalus twins didn't exist. There have been groups historically that believed that conjoined twins were mythological.

    Also, I'm not sure the rule by just using the number of brains is sufficient to handle all cases. Note for example that there are cases of people who have had chimeric brain tissue with an absorbed twin. There have also been examples of conjoined twins slightly fused heads with some brain tissue joining.

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  14. Would it be possible to marry just one of them or would you automatically be over on marrying two sister?

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  15. So what's the psak. Which head would one put on Tefillin or may it be both?

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  16. With all due respect, how could a video with women dressed in a non-tzniut manner be put up on this website?

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  17. Aren't human souls usually considered non-corporeal? If so, it makes no sense to try to specify any physical location for a human soul since "location" is a characteristic of a physical object. Perhaps the appropriate language is that a human soul can be associated with a living body (without pretense of knowing whether there is a physical location for the soul). But "associated" should not be understood as "located within". Any specification of a boundary location for a soul entails attributing a physical attribute to an incorporeal soul. Of course, if one considers the soul as corporeal, as a physical object, then it makes sense to refer to the physical location of the soul.
    There also seems to be considerable misuse of temporal concepts in contexts where there is no physical reality( i.e before physical creation). Einsteinian Gravitation suggests that space-time is a by-product of the physical universe and not "an empty stage" which "existed before" the universe came into being.
    We be ought to be much more aware that some of the language and concepts we use seem to have implicitly built-in assumptions about physical reality that are not readily compatible with well-established scientific models and notions.
    R

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  18. We today, on the other hand, would say that these are two people, both of whom are obligated to wear tefillin. It's not a two-headed person - they are single-bodied people. If you have any doubts about that, just watch this documentary about the amazing Hensel twins (note: I saw the first few minutes, and the girls do not conform to Orthodox standards of tzniut!):

    1) Who do you refer to by "we"?
    2) The Hensel twins do not support your argument because they basically have two bodies from the waist up housed in one body cavity--(they even had three arms at birth and one was amputated)
    3) Its a shame you didn't watch the whole video--see min. 17-20 where the doctors say that family doesn't allow them to perform any non-essential tests to let scientists really know what's going on neurologically and physiologically.

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  19. In brief, the argument runs as follows: The presence of a human being can be logically and empirically demonstrated to be located in the brain, and in the brain alone.

    Does that mean that a decapitated person should be considered alive immediately after the head is severed until the brain runs out of stored oxygen? There are studies which estimate the brain still has consciousness up to 13 seconds after decapitation.
    http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/extrasensory-perceptions/lucid-decapitation.htm

    Chazal were probably aware of this but nonetheless, halachic death is from the moment of decapitation. SO the "presence of a human being" seems to be an irrelevant criteria to halachic death.

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  20. Very interesting video. Kol ha'kovod and best wishes to the twins, their families and friends. They illustrate with fresh perspective the fundamental principle of the Torah, "you shall love your fellow as yourself." May they grow in health and prosperity and enjoy a wonderful life.

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  21. Due to some of the bizarre questions and comments posted here, I think it would be wise for us to adopt the policy that halachic principles in general deal with 99.99% of the cases and may not apply to the other .01%.

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  22. Your question on the Gemara is of course correct, and bothered me when I encountered it as a teenager, without knowing a whole lot about the brain death issue. It is plainly obvious that each separate head of a "two headed person", controls what each head thinks and says separately, and the heads can disagree with one another, and perforce must be two people. There is no way Chazal would or could deny that. Do you think Abaya or Rava could spend 8 seconds with the Hensel twins and not realize they were two individuals? The questioner in the Gemara must have been envisioning a situation where one brain controlled both heads and were one person. That there was never such a thing, and probably is an immpossibility, does not rule out this peshat. As such, I don't think you can show anything from here as to what Chazal believed regarding where the soul or personhood resides, as the difficulty is beyond whatever they believed. And if you were to argue, that I am precisely making your point, i.e. that chazal believed that "thinking" doesn't take place in the brain, that is so absurd, and runs counter to simple human experience, I cannot accept it.

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  23. R. Slifkin,
    I posted a link to another case of twins a while back earlier in this discussion and you ignored it then.

    There is a case of "two twins" who share 1 brain!
    That is, they are connected by the skull, and share a single brain, and are reported to be able to see out of each other's eyes.

    How does this fit into your argument?

    http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/the-twins-who-share-a-brain-4912/Overview

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  24. Do you think Abaya or Rava could spend 8 seconds with the Hensel twins and not realize they were two individuals?

    No - but they never encountered such people.

    And if you were to argue, that I am precisely making your point, i.e. that chazal believed that "thinking" doesn't take place in the brain, that is so absurd, and runs counter to simple human experience, I cannot accept it.

    Well then, you need to read up on the history of knowledge. Because that is exactly what people in the ancient world believed.

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  25. There is a case of "two twins" who share 1 brain!
    That is, they are connected by the skull, and share a single brain, and are reported to be able to see out of each other's eyes.


    They do NOT share one brain! There are two connected brains. Not the same thing at all.

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  26. "They do NOT share one brain! There are two connected brains. Not the same thing at all."

    This sounds like a semantics argument.

    http://gizmodo.com/#!5682758/the-fascinating-story-of-the-twins-who-share-brains-thoughts-and-senses

    For more information.
    They share thoughts, can see out of each others' eyes. The nervous systems are shared.

    You can not separate the skulls from each other withing killing both of them.

    We say they are two people because we observe different personalities. But going by the "flame test", they would be one person.

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  27. It's not a semantics argument in the least. Their brains are like two networked computers. Both can use the same printer - but they are two computers.

    I don't think that the flame test is valid.

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  28. Actually the comment by Joshua reminds me of another thing I was reading recently.

    There are cases of people who absorb their own twins in the womb, and as a result become chimeras at the DNA level. As an example there was a woman who's ovaries (and therefore the children she bore) genetically belonged to the twin she had absorbed before birth.

    This could raise a whole host of issues in chazal that I could imagine where the brain/heart could be from a different person than the remainder of the body. Is a chimera one or two people? Are the above mentioned woman's children hers or her never born sister?

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  29. I have written about the halakhos of twins with two heads available here:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/54690039

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  30. "It's not a semantics argument in the least. Their brains are like two networked computers. Both can use the same printer - but they are two computers."

    In your example, if you turn off one computer, the other computer still works, and the printer can be used.

    With these twins, if you "turn off one computer" the other computer turns off with it, and the printer is rendered useless.

    If that was the case for computers, I would not argue that they are two separate computers.

    It's more like a computer that has 4 CPU's (very common these days).. its still one computer.

    But lets change the question a little.

    Are you arguing like Rebbi and saying that there never can be two bodies with a single brain that will act as two people?
    Because it seems clear to me that if twins shared a single brain, the way some twins share a single stomach or a single heart, they would still have two separate personalities. Their brains might work twice as hard, and/or might develop Multiple personality disorder for each body. Or maybe it would work through some other mechanism that we don't know about yet.

    It would not "defy belief" for me to see two living people with one single brain. And I'm curious how you incorporate this into your argument.

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  31. Rob, by observation, the Hensel twin girls are 2 individuals who happen to share the same body. As such, one could not become a giyoret without the other's consent to tevila. The ostensible treatment of a 2-headed case in the talmud as one individual would, presumably, require us to accept the giyur only if both twins wanted it.

    Tuvi, if the twins converted, one could not marry just one of them since that would be too close to a 'menage a-trois'. If both consented to marriage then the fact that the talmud may consider them a single individual would, presumably, mitigate the torah prohibition against marrying 2 sisters.

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  32. Earlier, I asked: "Could it be that Rebbi actually believed that such an unusual case was possible, but that he was upset at Pelemo for a different reason (like maybe he sensed that Pelemo was mocking)?
    This is only a tentative suggestion."

    Would anyone care to comment?

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  33. Moshe F. said...
    Very interesting video. Kol ha'kovod and best wishes to the twins, their families and friends. They illustrate with fresh perspective the fundamental principle of the Torah, "you shall love your fellow as yourself." May they grow in health and prosperity and enjoy a wonderful life.

    I just want to add one word to your comment if you don't mind. "Amein"

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  34. one could not become a giyoret without the other's consent to tevila.
    It gets more complicated than that. What if the other half consents to her sister's tevila but she herself is not m'kabel mitzvos. What happens on shabbos - the giyoret is shomer shabbos but her sister (using the hand on the other side) needs to turn on at least one light? I mean, basically this situation would require its own shulchan oruch, or at least a new even haezer and orach chaim.

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  35. To argue on the other side -- how is this Hensel twins situation any different from a psychologically incurable case of split personality? There is clearly one and only one person present.

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  36. Shmuly writes:
    That is one sick video, I can't believe you posted that. The woman who birthed that freak of nature should be locked up. It's a huge statement for abortion.

    None of us can help the way he or she is made. They certainly didn't choose this. Their father didn't. Their mother didn't.

    Abby and Brittany are simply a pair of very incomplete identical twins. They live as close to a regular, private life as they can and seem to be remarkably well-adjusted girls even if they do have to cooperate on everything.

    In an earlier, crueler age they would have been exhibited as freaks in a circus. People would have come to gawk at them.

    The only monster here is the one calling them freaks or demanding that their mother be imprisoned for a rare congenital condition over which she had no control.

    Would you have laughed at Moses for stuttering? Do you point and jeer at people with birthmarks? No? Then learn a little compassion and decency. Don't mock the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. Show that you have a Jewish heart towards your fellow creatures.

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  37. I would appreciate a direct response to this:

    2) The Hensel twins do not support your argument because they basically have two bodies from the waist up housed in one body cavity--(they even had three arms at birth and one was amputated)

    Chazal were presumably describing a two-headed person with one set of all internal organs from the neck down. They probably shared one heart, one GI tract and one spinal cord which makes it a completely difference case.

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  38. Y. Aharon,
    The eponymous Siamese twins Chang and Eng married different women and sired quite a few children by them.

    Rob writes:
    To argue on the other side -- how is this Hensel twins situation any different from a psychologically incurable case of split personality? There is clearly one and only one person present.

    You're not making sense. There are two brains. If things had been just a tiny bit different there would have been two complete girls. Anyone who has taken undergraduate developmental biology can tell you exactly how this anomaly happened.

    Dissociative Personality Disorder is a psychological condition with well-described etiology, symptoms, progress and so on. The Hensels are not a single person suffering from DPD. They just aren't.

    They are clearly two individuals with separate brains and distinct minds and identities. They share a number of body parts due to incomplete twinning.

    The only reason you are entertaining this ridiculous notion is a pre-existing judgment based on faith and therefore not amenable to facts or reason.

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  39. I remember reading a few years ago about the debate in Europe around kosher slaughter and states which require stunning. One of the things I read was a claim from the Jewish side that kosher slaughter causes the immediate loss of consciousness to the animal due to the loss of blood pressure to the brain and was thus more humane than stunning. It was supposedly based on some scientific study of the matter. Anyone heard of that and how does it relate to this?

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  40. Dissociative Personality Disorder is a psychological condition with well-described etiology, symptoms, progress and so on. The Hensels are not a single person suffering from DPD. They just aren't.
    Dicephalus twins are an incurable physical condition with well-described etiology, symptoms, etc. Ms. Hensel is not two people any more than a person with DSD is two people. The fact that there appears to be two distinct personalities is because consciousness itself is a biological byproduct of brain function, and in this case there happens to be two physically distinct brains, whereas in DSD there is only one discernable brain, but the fact remains that they are one inseparable physical unit, one (1) organism. Makes perfect sense to me, and you don't need faith to make the argument.

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  41. Thanks for the kind mention. Just to respond to some of the comments. The twins described in the national geographic link each have their own brain(perhaps there are parts of the brain that are shared, but each has a majority of brain of its own- it is difficult to know without seeing the MRI or CT images), but there are some connections between the two brains. They are not sharing one brain- this is an innacurate sensationalist title that unfortunately is not uncommon in the popular media.

    Rabbi J David Bleich in Tradition in 1996 goes over halachic aspects of conjoined twins including opinions on marriage etc.

    Regarding the decapitation issue- the BODY that is severed from the head is dead. The functioning head is not necessarily dead by a close reading of the sugya. Since I doubt that it would have occured to the authors of the gemara to consider the situation of an isolated head being supported by machines- and if it would have been their opinion that the isolated functioning head would be labelled dead. after all, the head would be able to speak, and mouth words, and as we say in Hallel- "lo hamatim yehallelu Ka" dead people cant praise God. Someone who can praise God cant be dead

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  42. robert, to make an overly long story short that interpretation relies on ignoring mountains of contrary evidence, very selective reading to the point of distortion and a lot of wishful thinking.

    Animals do not immediately lose consciousness when their throats are cut. A sheep takes a while. A cow takes a lot longer and can thrash around and show obvious distress for a disconcerting length of time before it stops.

    You may say "That's just reflex. It's not really consciousness." This comes perilously close to begging the question. We know the gedolim are right because the animals lose consciousness immediately. How do we know that? Why, we have it on Divine authority that this is the case.

    Let's consider a clearer example, a human being. Soldiers who are trained in sentry removal use techniques scientifically designed and rigorously tested to cause unconsciousness in the shortest time. Suffering is not a concern. The collected experience pretty clearly shows that unless the spinal cord is severed a person with all the great vessels severed is capable of directed action for at least ten seconds. A man is larger than most sheep but smaller than a cow.

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  43. Rob, you might as well say that everyone is suffering from a degenerate single-alter case of DPD because personality and consciousness reside in the brain.

    The Hensel girls do not display the symptoms of DPD. They don't have the history associated with it. The only reason you bring this up is to cloud the issue. Your original conjecture is dead wrong. End of story.

    Since you're willing to enter far enough into the phenomenological world to admit that consciousness and identity arise from the brain rather than the heart and kidneys where does that leave us? The girls have two brains which are capable of independent cognition and have given rise to distinct personal identities. By any scientific standard there are two minds, not two dissociative personality fragments of a single mind.

    If one of the heads were to die that personality would be extinguished forever. The other would continue assuming the injury did not kill both.

    Further, if you claim these two girls are one person you must also grant that identical twins and mirror twins are also one person. The only difference is a tiny developmental change that completed the twinning.

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  44. Regarding the decapitation issue- the BODY that is severed from the head is dead.

    This is evading the issue. If you are equating "the presence of a human being" with his brain function and consciousness, then according to you, a beheaded individual is still present and alive.
    The Talmud--however you read the sugya of decapitation in Ohalos-- does not have any such category of "the presence of a human being" in the way you describe.
    Therefore my point still stands: Your definition of death is simply non-halachic.

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  45. Further, if you claim these two girls are one person you must also grant that identical twins and mirror twins are also one person. The only difference is a tiny developmental change that completed the twinning.

    I agree that they would appear to be two people, just as identical twins are. I have been arguing only to bring out the following point: we don't know where a brain ends and a neshama begins. We don't know with certainty that one brain = one neshama. In the case of identical twins -- there have been reports of supernatural communication across great distances between twins. Perhaps there is an aspect of a shared neshama. I don't know. Adam haRishon had influence over how many neshamos? If the gemara says that tefillin is worn on one head of a dicephalus twin, maybe that suffices for the spiritual requirements of the neshama(s) in question. From a rationalist perspective, I agree that the gemara does not appear relevant, and both heads should wear tefillin, with separate berachas. But if the gemara is alluding to a deeper spiritual reality about the number of neshamas present, then there is also a tzad to say that tefillin on one head would suffice. If the twins are truly inseparable, perhaps there is only one neshama. (And as for the tefillin shel yad ... k'neged which libo... ?)

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  46. brain teaser- please read my article that Rav Slifkin kindly linked to. Try to think about this point- if you seperate a head from a body, which is the person- the head, or the body? and before you say that it doesn't matter because the person is dead, understand that it is possible to take the severed head, attach it to a different body, and now you wind up with the head of person A, functioning, attached to the body of person B. You are faced with thinking being that can mouth words, hear, see and has a body(albeit paralyzed because we cant reattach the spinal cord). And if you want to claim that this person is dead, then you have to explain why Christopher Reeves, who was neurologically in the exact same condition after his spinal cord injury, wasn't dead for all the years he was hooked up to a ventillator. Your position does not make logical sense.

    The point I was making is that these types of technological accomplishments were not even on the horizon in the time of Chazal, and therefore they cannot be expected to have addressed them directly.

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  47. And if you want to claim that this person is dead, then you have to explain why Christopher Reeves, who was neurologically in the exact same condition after his spinal cord injury, wasn't dead for all the years he was hooked up to a ventillator.

    That's simple.
    Reeves wasn't dead because his head wasn't severed completely from his body. The halacha is straightforward. Decapitation is death. That is when the soul departs from its physical container.
    Putting the one severed head back on another's body won't bring either soul back. They are biologically functioning dead people.

    I read your article.
    When you introduce new categories like "presence of a human being" and assuming --without any halachic basis-- that the soul is housed in one isolated location, you are stepping out of the halachic system and making yourself irrelevant to halachic Jews.


    The point I was making is that these types of technological accomplishments were not even on the horizon in the time of Chazal, and therefore they cannot be expected to have addressed them directly.

    The issue of when and where a soul departs from its physical container is a metaphysical question. And the answer does not change with technological accomplishments.
    It's just more halachic irrelevancies.

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  48. Putting the one severed head back on another's body won't bring either soul back. They are biologically functioning dead people.

    That might well qualify as the single silliest comment ever posted on this blog. Dr. Stadlan, please don't waste your time with this person.

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  49. You may have already seen this, but if not, it's a new case, even more extreme than the cases presented here. The sisters apparently have 2 spines and 2 esophaguses, but one of everything else. I'm not sure about their brains.

    http://my.news.yahoo.com/chinese-twins-born-single-body-2-heads-033047314.html

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  50. That might well qualify as the single silliest comment ever posted on this blog. Dr. Stadlan, please don't waste your time with this person.

    Maybe you should withhold judgment until medical science actually proves itself capable of such a feat.
    I would also qualify a cloned human as a biologically functioning dead/non-person.
    No soul==dead.
    Is that just as silly?

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  51. Maybe you should withhold judgment until medical science actually proves itself capable of such a feat.

    It's been capable of it for decades. It was done with dogs a long time ago.

    I would also qualify a cloned human as a biologically functioning dead/non-person.
    No soul==dead.
    Is that just as silly?


    Yes, it is just as silly. Really, you should not be in this forum.

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  52. Tali, two normal-looking heads doing different things. Definitely two brains.

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  53. Hi Rabbi Slifkin. I'm not sure if this question has been asked, but I came across this in my learning that might shed light on where the soul is located in the body: (Berachot 10a, Soncino translation)

    He said to him: What I meant to tell you is this: To whom did David refer in these five verses beginning with ‘Bless the Lord, my soul’? He was alluding only to the Holy One, blessed be He, and to the soul. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, fills the whole world, so the soul fills the body. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, sees, but is not seen, so the soul sees but is not itself seen. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, feeds the whole world, so the soul feeds the whole body. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, is pure, so the soul is pure. Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, abides in the innermost precincts, so the soul abides in the innermost precincts. Let that which has these five qualities come and praise Him who has these five qualities.

    It seems as if the soul fills the whole body, doesn't it?

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  54. But that can't be so, for lots of reasons - for example, it would mean that if a person gets a kidney transplant, some of the soul is being transferred!

    So it must simply mean either that a person's "life" fills his whole body - i.e. his whole body is alive - or that the soul exerts influence on the whole body. Or, it's an aggadic statement that isn't to be given weight in the brain-death questions.

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  55. I'm not trying to relate this to brain death, but I would like to research more into the make-up of the soul. For one, I'm not sure why you feel the need to say it is necessarily housed only in the brain, since the brain is the life giver and has your personality and intelligence.

    Why can't we define the soul as a metaphysical life-force that would no longer apply to things that have been detached from your body. If your kidney is taken out, your soul does no go with it, since it no longer has your original life-force attached to it. If you chop off someone's arm, he no longer has his life-force giving life to that arm, and it therefore doen't have his soul. If you receive a kidney, you are putting your own life-force into that kidney. The Torah does call the blood life, after all, perhaps alluding to that.

    In the case of conjoined twins, there are two life-forces, supporting two bodies that happen to be shared.

    Why do you reject this definition, especially in light of the gemara in berachos?

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  56. And what happens if you transplant Reuven's head to Shimon's back, and Reuven's body to Levi's back. Where is Reuven's soul/ life-force?

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  57. This is old blog post that no one's looking at anymore, but I just read a great article on the topic, so I figured I'd post the comment here.

    Last week, the NY Times had a feature story about another set of twins, but very different from the Hansel kids. The Hogan twins have two entirely separate bodies, but because their neurological system seems to be connected in a unique way, they actually share many sensory experiences whereby one can see (or rather, sense) what the other is looking at.
    Read it here: Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?

    No doubt, this has interesting ramifications for the halachic discussion of the issue.

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