There is a case ongoing here in the US which has caught my attention. An Orthodox Jewish boy was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, underwent care and eventual surgery at a Washington, DC hospital, but never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead by the doctors there on Tuesday evening when test results showed no signs of brain activity. The boy's name is Motl Brody.
The hospital wants now to remove Motl from life support. In most US states the law says that death is declared (or may be declared, depending on the sate) when brain activity has ceased. Motl's parents are fighting this because "their faith does not define death as cessation of brain function alone." Their lawyer said, "Under Jewish law and their faith, there is no such thing as brain death."
A few questions come to my mind.
First, could someone explain the basis of this belief or point me in the right direction? How would an Orthodox Jew define death? To what source does an Orthodox Jew look for such a teaching? Is this a definitive teaching? How would this differ from that of other Jews?
Secondly, (and depending on what the response is to the above) given the current Catholic understanding of these situations based on Pope John Paul II's teaching on ordinary vs. extraordinary means, how might a Hebrew Catholic react to this situation?
This is a very sad case which raises some interesting and important questions. Perhaps we might all pray for the boy and his family in such a very difficult time.
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Just a bit of explanation on the background of Jewish law:
The issue of what consistutes medical death would have been brought before the rabbis. Once decided, it cannot be deviated from.8 If cases come before your courts that are too difficult for you to judge—whether bloodshed, lawsuits or assaults—take them to the place the LORD your God will choose. 9 Go to the priests, who are Levites, and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict. 10 You must act according to the decisions they give you at the place the LORD will choose. Be careful to do everything they direct you to do. 11 Act according to the law they teach you and the decisions they give you. Do not turn aside from what they tell you, to the right or to the left. 12 The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. 13 All the people will hear and be afraid, and will not be contemptuous again.