JLI Retreat 2023: Great debates in Judaism in medicine with Rabbi Edward Reichman MD

Great debates in Judaism in medicine with Rabbi Edward Reichman MD


Rabbi Moshe Feinstein: Abortion is akin to homicide. Not equivalent, but akin. It’s the taking of a life. The only permitted abortion is if the mother’s life is at risk. Tay-Sachs is not a justification for abortion.  Even an amniocentesis is not permitted since it could lead to an abortion. Catholicism takes the opposite view, that the mother must be sacrificed to save the fetus. 

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg believes abortion is not akin to homicide. It can be performed to save the health of the mother, including mental health issues. Aborions up to 7th month are permitted. Theoretically postpartum depression could be a mental health issue, but now there is treatment for postpartum depression. Therefore a rabbi would be less likely to permit an abortion for that.

Donor artificial insemination: How to procure reproductive seed.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein: A married woman who goes to a sperm bank because her husband is infertile is not an adulteress. The child is not a momser. This is because there is no physical illicit relationship between the woman and the donor. The donor is the Halachic father. If the donor is a Kohan, the child is a Kohan.

Nevertheless, Jewish law prohibits being a sperm donor. New issues crop up with sperm donors. What if stem cells are taken from the sperm? This has not been adjudicated yet.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that a person should be willing to give up everything including his own life to have children.

There is no US legislation limiting the number of children produced by one sperm donor. The serious risk is siblings marrying each other. 

If a Jewish woman has a child with a non-Jewish man, the child is Jewish but the child has no Halachic father. The child has a genetic father, not a Halachic one. With no Halachic father, it is impossible to marry a paternal sibling. 

There are 60 cases being prosecuted for reproductive specialists providing their own sperm.

3 Day Burial Controversy: Way back when, doctors would misdiagnose your time of death, which affected the entire Western world for burial purposes. “Saved by the bell” is people who would ring a bell when they were buried underground when they were still alive. People who died had to be kept above ground for a few days until it was 100% proven that death had occurred. This conflicts with Jewish law, which demands immediate burial. In israel, burial must occur within 24 hours. There is a clear prohibition on delaying burial. 

Yet modern technology has ethicists and others arguing when death occurs. Nevertheless, technology also allows the exact time of death to be precisely pinpointed. 

Superstition is part of Christian tradition, not Jewish tradition.

A new physiological definition of death: The invention of the respirator allowed for people to artificially be give oxygen. This meant the stopping of the brain diverged from the stopping of the heart. In the 1950s, a new condition called brain death occurred but cardiac death did not. Legal brain death allowed other organs to be transplanted because those organs were properly functioning. 

If you misdiagnose someone as dead when they are not legally dead, and your misdiagnosis causes death, you have Halachically committed homicide. 

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