Rabbi Shabtai Rappaport
[2 minutes 15 seconds]
Rav Moshe z’l, said that the real test to see whether a person is alive or dead is the spontaneous breathing, the Apnea test. Now in the early tshuva [responsum] from ’68, Rav Moshe writes that the then organ transplant that Dr. Christian Bernard did in Tel Ha-Shomer was double murder, you murder the donor. Why did you murder the donor? We’re talking about the year ’68, ’68 was before the invention of life support system, before the introduction of the ventilators. The person whose heart was still beating had to breathe, he was still breathing and his heart was beating, breathing spontaneous breath and his heart was beating. Only his EEG, he had flat EEG, his cortex was not functioning, it was dead. This is what they called brain death at that time, that the thinking part of the brain was dead.
But actually, nowadays we say that this person was in coma. He was breathing, he was alive. Spontaneous breath is the definition of life so he was definitely alive at that time. That’s why taking the heart of a living person is murder. The tshuva from ’76 talks about life support system. A person who is being ventilated, someone who that his breathing is not spontaneous but it is mechanic. As Rav Moshe says, this is not a sign of life, so this person is dead, they are not alive. So there is no contradiction, it’s not that the technique changed, it’s not the change in times or techniques or diagnoses, it’s a change in circumstances. The first tshuva talks about someone who is breathing on his own and the second tchuva talks about someone who is not breathing on his own. And here lies the difference, it’s as simple as that.
Okay, so this concludes Rav Moshe’s opinion about the definition of death. It really depends on the spontaneous, on the person being able to breathe.