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Chief Rabbinate Council Rules That Heart Transplants Are Permissable Under Certain Conditions of Jew

Leading Israeli physicians and Health Minister Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino welcomed the Chief Rabbinate Council’s ruling Monday that heart transplant operations are permissable under certain conditions according to religious law.

A leading heart surgeon commented Tuesday that the halachic decision means that Israel is now among the world’s enlightened countries. The Hadassah Medical Center here announced preparations for the first heart transplant surgery. The hospital indicated that it is fully qualified and equipped for the procedure but had delayed only because it wanted to comply with rabbinical directives.

The Chief Rabbinate ruling came after weeks of discussion between the 12-man Rabbinate Council and a panel of doctors. The issue was the definition of death, as applied to the donor of the heart or other vital organs.

Many rabbis had long insisted that death occurs only when the heart stops beating, regardless of the fact that hearts can be kept beating by artificial means after the brain ceases to function. Now apparently the Chief Rabbinate accepts the medical definition of death, which is death of the brain.

Shlomo Goren, the former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, said in an article published in The Jerusalem Post Sunday, that death occurs when the part of the brain responsible for breathing has ceased to function for a minimum of seven minutes.

Goren wrote in connection with Israel’s first two liver transplant operations performed at Rambam Hospital in Haifa last month without rabbinical sanction because the transplants were urgently needed. Both patients are in critical condition from post-operative infections.

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