Dr. Arthur Eidelman
Professor of Pediatrics
Sharei Zedek Hospital
[9 minutes 4 seconds]
TRANSCRIPTION OF VIDEO
Dr. Arthur Eidelman:
“I am a graduate from Yeshiva University High School, I graduated Yeshiva College, and I am a product of Yeshiva university all through, having even gone on to medical school at Einstein. Being ten years on the faculty there, actually I am still, technically, on the faculty as what they call “a permanent visiting professor”. So I am back on campus there every year. Rabbi Tendler was my genetics teacher in college. Actually I took a few other Biology courses with him before I graduated Yeshiva College and went off to medical school, and we maintained the contact for many years.
On the request of Rabbi Tender, I arranged for a meeting on September 22, 1975, with Dr. Ira Greifer. This meeting was held in the pediatric department of the Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I’m sure you ask how I could remember the day so specifically. Well, the date is very important to the Eidelman family; it is the birth date of our youngest son Emmanuel Eliyahu, who was born on that day. What does that have to do with this meeting? At the beginning of [my wife’s] labor, the physicians in the obstetric department said, “Why don’t you go sit in your husband’s office?” So she came up to the office, and she joined the meeting. As labor progressed, we discussed the issues of brain death and organ transplantation. I got very scientific and very academic. After this meeting, Rabbi Tender arranged for us [Dr. Greifer and myself] to go up to Monsey and meet Rav Moshe Feinstein in the home of Rabbi Tendler. He was living there at that time, I could remember very specifically, in a furnished basement area of the house. We then met with Rabbi Feinstein, and we had the opportunity to discuss these issues.
I can’t member the specifics of the days of the meeting, it probably was in late October or the beginning of November, some four, five, six weeks after out meeting at Einstein in September 22nd. The best I recall I think it was just the four of us. We came as the two medical experts; my field in neonatology, and being primarily an intensivist, obviously also had a background in issues: people at deaths door, passing away, when we declare them dead, and all of the issues.”
“So Doctor Frank Veith wasn’t there?”
“Dr. Frank Veith was not at that meeting.”
“There was not an African-American doctor there either?”
“No. It was just the two of us, Dr. Greifer and myself, Rabbi Tendler and Rav Moshe and it was an experience, because basically, we were, I would almost say, grilled. Rabbi Feinstein wanted to know specifics. I mean it was something that was very impressive. I had met Rabbi Feinstein more than a few times, and had ongoing contact, because I was very active in the Orthodox Jewish Scientist Organization at that time. They had a section for physicians, and more interestingly, they had a section for medical students, because that was the first era when a large number of Shomer Mitzvot medical students existed. Up to that time they were probably random people. We were looking for guidelines. How to function as students? How to function as physicians? So we had a regular ongoing meeting, and I had met Rabbi Feinstein before as part of a group. Never, up to that point, in such small numbers. It very much reminded me of other sessions, because he asked very pertinent question, very specific questions. Obviously he wanted to confirm what he may have heard, or learn more specifics. This was my experience that I had with him. When discussing other issues of Halacha and medicine I–”
“So it was as if someone had shared with him information and he was grilling you as a medical expert to see if that information was–”
“Absolutely. Definitely it was not one that I spent listening passively. I would say grilling in the sense that I was coming off almost as a student, maybe a junior faculty, and having a senior person testing my knowledge, and exploring and trying to expand on it.
He wasn’t there to make pronouncements. He was there to hear, understand, and then build on that with the next series of questions. The meeting was not minutes; it was at least a couple of hours. I can’t be any more specific. I am sure that it wasn’t five or six hours, but it wasn’t a cursory five-minute meeting. He really wanted to go into depth on these issues. Both the biology of the process of somebody coming to the end and dying, what was involved here, what we as physicians saw, and he also wanted to hear particularly from Dr. Greifer, what were the needs of patients in terms of organ transplants, primarily kidneys which Dr. Greifer was very involved in. That was not my field, but surely death was an issue that I dealt with on a daily basis almost, being a neonatologist, and being responsive for an intensive care unit. So it was a reality that I had to deal with.
We were having a whole discussion, and we were talking about how Biology these days are working with frogs and surely with humans, and the heartbeats could go on for hours, if not days. Totally unrelated to the status of death, or not death of the organism; it had its own intrinsic life as an organ, but it was not as a measure of the life of the person. So the definition that at the end of our discussion was, as he conveyed, was that cardiac death is definitely not the definition of death, but the definition is based on the person breathing or not breathing –-the organism as he said.
I can’t be that specific, but the two things of course that we talked about if somebody was decapitated was something we very much discussed explicitly. And surely the Gemmara that says that if somebody has a Mapolet is out buried, and if you could do Chilush, what might be perceived as Chilul Shabbat, but obviously if it is to Hatzalat Nifashot or Pikuach Chaim, then you could start digging and trying to uncover the status of the person. You reach the nose and see if the person is breathing, and you decide based on that if you are allowed to proceed on Shabbat doing what is a Melacha. If the person is not breathing, then you cannot proceed. If its breathing then you continue. It was clear that the definition of death is based on breathing and not breathing, and it was irrespective of the heart rate. If the person is not breathing you didn’t have to go check if the heart rate was there or not. So those two Gemaras clearly were discussed during this time, and that was part of his thought process, saying ‘this was the definition of death, and therefore proceeding based on that, organ transplantation is perfectly fine, and I would even say desirable.
It is no doubt that from our meeting in 1975, we heard very explicitly that Rav Moshe Feinstein supported organ transplantation; surely in the context of his definition of death, which would facilitate the ideal way of doing organ transplantation.”
Even the donation of the heart?
Even the donation of the heart. That was definitely not the definition of death as he defined it halachicly. During this meeting, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explicitly said that brain death is an acceptable halachic definition of death, and therefore Jews are obligated in a way to donate organs; including the heart. The discussion and what he said of course was a combination of Hebrew and Yiddish, as most halachic discussions are, and I definitely heard him say this, and I understood exactly what he was saying. ‘Brain death is an acceptable definition of death halachicly.’”
And you understood that because you understood Yiddish and Hebrew?”
I understand the Hebrew, the Yiddish and the whole way that one discusses Halachic issues.
“Do you feel that Rav Moshe Feinstein’s medical understanding then, now 35 years later you might consider to be incorrect, and maybe he had an incorrect medical understanding of the medical reality of brain death.
On the contrary, I think he understood probably better than many other people, both physicians and surely Rabbis who do not have the experience of discussing these issues with physicians. He understood very explicitly the medical and the biological basis of what he was giving his psak on.