The Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem is known for its strict adherence to Jewish law, since its establishment 100 years ago. But this week, a storm erupted among the Orthodox after the hospital allowed an operation to remove organs for donation on a brain dead patient at the hospital.
Haredi newspaper Yated Neeman reported that the surgery was carried out on a man being treated in the hospital who was declared brain dead Tuesday. The haredi sector was infuriated by the deed because it is forbidden by halachic rule (Jewish law) and violated agreements with Orthodox rabbis against carrying out such operations in the observant hospital. Brain death occurs when brainstem activity stops, which is responsible for blood flow, heart beat and breathing. Brain death is irreversible.
The hospital’s rabbinical committee forbids the removal of organs from patients that are still alive according to Jewish law, and in the past ruled that if the family requests the organs be donated, the surgery must take place in a different hospital. Hospital officials responded that doctors went through with the operation at the hospital in compliance with a special request by the patient’s family, and the organs saved the lives of two other patients.
The Shaare Zedek Medical Center has operated in accordance with Jewish law for decades, and until recently was subordinate to the authority of Rabbi Moshe Halberstam, who died about a month and a half ago. Rabbi Halberstam served as chairman of the Hatzolah Israel organization and as the halachic authority for the hospital. All questions regarding Jewish law that arose there were posed to him, and he decided the hospital’s conduct.
A storm broke out when the incident leaked to the Orthodox community, who specifically choose to be treated there above other hospitals because of its reputation of being observant. The article further claimed that family members said they only agreed to donate the organs only after they were pressured by doctors.
The Orthodox court plans to hold an emergency meeting on the matter Thursday, and have already decided to appoint a rabbi to supervise the question of organ donations at the hospital in the future. Sources from the haredi public said, “Since Rabbi Halberstam passed away, the hospital lets itself do what it wants and ignores the halachic regulations practiced there for years.”
“Last week as well,” the sources added, “a similar incident occurred, but since the patient was not Jewish it passed silently.” The Orthodox plan to hold a prayer rally and protest Sunday against the hospital’s conduct. Details of the affair even reached Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, spiritual leader of the Lithuanian sector, and he has already begun consulting with medical officials on the matter.
Hospital: Saving lives highest value
A spokesperson for the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Shaham Rubio, responded: “The family wanted to donate the organs of the patient. At the head of the committee that declared the patient brain dead stood Professor Avraham Steinberg, MD. The man’s kidneys were transplanted into two patients who had been waiting five years and whose lives were endangered. Their two lives were saved thanks to the transplants.”
“It is known that there is a conflict between the halachic adjudicators on the matter of brain death, and there was nothing in our decision to cause frictions between us and the haredi sector on the matter of saving a life – which is of supreme value. In light of the urgency of action needed to save the lives of the two patients, and considering the family’s refusal to transfer the patient to another hospital, we had to decide quickly and conduct the surgery at Shaare Zedek,” the spokesperson said. “The operation was carried out by a special team from another hospital, and the transplants were done at other hospitals. Shaare Zedek Medical Center is known for its unique character and professionalism that comply with halachic values.”