Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Common Sense Principle and the Determination of the Time of Death

Our fourth principle is the common sense principle. According to this principle, if a contemporary halachic analysis of a particular medical issue leads to a conclusion that seems to defy common sense, one should seriously consider the possibility that his/her halachic analysis may have been flawed.  Let me reiterate that this by no means proves that the analysis is wrong.  Sometimes halacha may defy what a contemporary person thinks is common sense, because the halacha may be promoting a different value system.  Nonetheless, it clearly warrants a deeper look into the issues to make sure some important factors were not missed when the halachic analysis was originally done.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog, that common sense would dictate that irreversible brain death should be a reasonable criteria for death.  If this is not obvious to you, let me present the following arguments for this.  Remember, these are non-halachic, common sense arguments.

1) All thoughts and feelings occur in the brain
2) A person's personality, sensations, emotions etc... are all in the brain
3) All voluntary movements of the body originate in the brain
4) Once the brain is irreversibly dead, it is impossible to resuscitate a brain
5) Once the brain dies, ALL body functions cease, unless otherwise supported by artificial devices
6) Almost any organ can be transplanted from one person to another, but brain transplantation is impossible, and most likely always will be impossible
7) Even if # 6 was proven wrong, i.e. brain transplantation was possible, most of us would agree that if person A's brain were transplanted into person B's body, that the body that was formerly of person B would really now be person A with new organs, and not person B with a new brain.  This is different than the transplantation of any other organ, which simply becomes the new heart, lung etc... of the recipient body.
8) There is no such thing as an artificial device which can keep a dead brain alive, nor is it conceivable that there ever will be such an invention
9) Even if # 8 were proven wrong, i.e a machine were invented that was equivalent to a respirator for the brain, this would  simpy, be considered a machine that keeps people alive, as their consciousness and identity abnd awareness would be preserved by this machine. This is different from a respirator for the lungs which simply keeps the lungs and other organs alive while the person is actually dead. 10) Consciousness is reflected by electrical activity in the brain, this is demonstrated all the time with many medical imaging studies and tests, if we assume that consciousness is at least in part a function of our soul, then it would make sense that the irreversible cessation of electrical activity in the brain is probably a good indicator of the departure of the soul

Now I know that none of these prove anything about the halachic criteria for brain death, but tell me honestly, based on what we all know to be true about human anatomy today, if you had to pick one organ that was the central organ of life, one organ which defined whether you were alive or dead, one organ which was the seat of your soul, which organ would you choose? That is what I mean by common sense.

The common sense principle dictates that if common sense leads to one conclusion, and a halachic interpretation leads to an opposite conclusion, that this warrants a serious review of your halachic conclusion to determine if indeed halacha is trying to teach you something above and beyond common sense, or maybe your halachic conclusion was wrong in the first place.  It also dictates that if you conclude against what almost all physicians, scientists and health care practitioners today believe to be true, that you should seriously consider if your halachic conclusion might be wrong.

I have considered whether or not the CDA are wrong, and I do believe that their halachic conclusion is just plain wrong.  Brain death not only makes common sense, it is halachically correct as well, for reasons which we have already described in previous posts.

1 comment:

  1. Is it part of common sense assume that Hashem wouldn't allow the vast majority of poskim to make such a terrible error, responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths (through lack of organs for transplants), and great suffering (through families having to watch their loved ones degenerate whilst on a ventilator)?
    I'm not sure myself, but I suppose the truth is the truth, and we cannot shy away from it (and in turn cause more needless suffering) merely because it is uncomfortable.
    What about the issue of organ donations to nachriim? Is darchei shalom the only way to get out of this - seems a bit of a cop-out to me.