May The Brain Death ‘Controversy’ Die A Dignified Death,Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD

May The Brain Death ‘Controversy’ Die A Dignified Death,Rabbi Aaron E. Glatt, MD.

For any of you who have read this op-ed, did you also feel a sense of anger after?  For anyone following the brain-death controversy, this particular opinion piece misses the boat completely.  The argument that many are floating against the RCA relates to how we should relate to the morality of giving and receiving organ donations in light of the psaq that brain-death isn’t a clear cut decision of the moment of death.  Instead, Rabbi Glatt has to get into a whole piece about the non-democratic nature of psaq, which seems completely irrelevant.  Besides, as a Rabbi once shared, no halachic argument can be made in the vacuum of the Beit Midrash.  If the argument cannot hold muster in practice, then the argument is not a true representation of the halacha. 

This controversy does not, and cannot, have a simple scientific resolution, despite what anyone may claim. Science does not and cannot answer metaphysical questions. The definition of death according to science is, however, open for debate and can change by popular vote of the appropriate academies or respective legislative bodies.

On the other hand, halacha is immutable, although its ramifications, based upon the available facts, may change. The “halacha lema’aseh” may in fact be different today than years ago for many issues, because of technological advances and/or better understanding of the problem. Halachic analysis requires taking the best scientific evidence available and using the halachic process to provide “lema’aseh” answers to real questions posed.
Based on this unbiased straightforward approach, indeed the only possible current resolution to the brain death halachic controversy is “Ailu ve’ailu divrei Elokim chaim.” There simply is no overriding clear-cut halachic reaction that all gedolim agree is the correct lema’aseh response. And that is the one incontrovertible fact that seems to be forgotten amid all the tumult. Therefore it is very sad for me to see this beis midrash “controversy” itself take on a life of its own…
Not every person (or rav) is entitled to a halachic opinion. Having knowledge in one area of science or halacha does not automatically provide expertise in another area. How much more so (kal va’chomer), then, the need for individuals to refrain from proffering opinions on matters about which they are not qualified. And the vast majority of Jews are simply not qualified to render a halachic opinion on brain death.

A very undemocratic viewpoint, I know, but one I heard echoed many years ago in a class by a great rabbi. One of the students commented that the Taz appeared more correct to him regarding a particular halacha. The Rav quickly responded, “The Shach is not losing any sleep” because you agree with the Taz.
One cannot simply vote and count up how many people think or feel a specific opinion is correct in the brain death controversy – it is an exercise in futility, even if all the voters have the title Rabbi or Doctor in front of their name. While politicians may do this (“acharei rabbim lehatos” in last week’s parshah), it does not mean we should poll the electorate and pasken accordingly.

One more issue is his misuse of aharei rabbim lehatot, for it does refer to majority decision making.  While it is true not everyone gets a say, it doesn’t mean halacha is not “voted” on and that the majority decision wins ala Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai as seen in Mishnayot Shabbat.

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