I recently received an office visit from an Orthodox Jewish patient in my pulmonology practice whose life was saved with a lung transplant. There is nothing more satisfying and dramatic than seeing someone who not long ago was suffocating to death from an incurable lung disease return to my office without the need for oxygen, radiating health and life, accompanied by his or her overjoyed family. These rejuvenated patients have been given the gift of life-saving organs from a brain-dead patient whose family allowed the donation.
I must confess, however, that as an Orthodox Jew, my own joy at seeing these patients return from near-death is tempered by a nagging sadness, anger and frustration that some rabbis would never allow one of their own flock, if they were brain-dead, to save lives by becoming an organ donor. This is because these rabbis reject brain death as being inconsistent with halacha, or Jewish law. For them, death is defined halachically as the permanent cessation of one’s heartbeat. Continue reading
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