Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler
Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)
[6 minutes 37 seconds]
Rav Tendler: At Albert Einstein College of Medicine we had a lecture, organized by the Rabbinical Council of America. When we went in I lectured there and then we went into the hospital and there were patients there who were on the ventilator who had to be checked if they were brainstem dead, and some were, so that people had a chance to see how the dignity of the patient is maintained, nothing is done to hurt the patient, etc. Unfortunately, those who had been opposed to the brainstem definition of death had refused to come. That was one of the dramatic signs that the issue had become an agenda not a halacha, and the agenda was to fight the brainstem death definition.
How open, how transparent the battle was between myself and Rabbi Shechter and Rabbi Willig, you have an exchange of those letters that went to every member of the RCA.
Rav Tendler: Right and after that there was a vote of the executive committee and based upon one, however they evaluated the facts, Rabbi Wolfish was the executive director then and he led the battle with the RCA. But most importantly, one fellow, I don’t recall who it was, maybe Rabbi Wolfish, got up and said, “I don’t understand why there’s an issue now, it’s a moot point, Rabbanus Hareishis has ruled, it is part of our policy to support the Rabbanus Hareishis”. And then after that it became policy, period.
If I can sum up the published and verbal opinions of my great father-in-law z”l, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, he held halacha l’maaseh. A neighbor of mine who was a Chabadnik, needed a lung transplant, actually at a time when they couldn’t do lung transplants so they had to do a heart-lung transplant because they knew how to connect the heart but they didn’t know how to cut the lungs and reconnect it. She had a heart lung transplant in Pittsburgh, after this whole thing about Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l who sent her to the Rav Moshe and Rav Moshe approved the heart-lung transplant, declaring the donor dead. Rabbi Feinstein wouldn’t allow that kind of rationalization that the donor could be killed in order to save the life of a Jewish patient. The opinion of Rabbi Feinstein is recorded in the Igros Moshe, there was a teshuva, a responsa that he wrote to me, that didn’t concern organ donation, it concerned when can you stop the ventilator once a patient is declared brainstem dead. And there is no issue of organ donation there, the issue was simply can you remove the ventilator? And I said of course, once you can show that he’s not breathing independently, then you remove the ventilator. Here we didn’t have another motivation to save another human life, just to bury this one.
Strangely enough, one of the opponents to brainstem death determination had the lack of integrity to make a statement in print that Rabbi Feinstein’s son, my brother-in-law, Rav Dovid Feinstein shli”ta, had said that his father never approved the brainstem death. That went around the Jewish world, and what was missing was the little integrity of someone calling Rav Dovid to ask, is it so? No one did, as at least a person did not, and kept on lecturing and publishing in print. Finally, I called my brother-in-law and said what’s going on here? And he said you know how many times we discussed this with our father, there’s no issue, he’s printed. And he wrote a letter to the opposition, which was delivered by hand, didn’t change the following lecture at a conference, the same repetition of a canard of this lie, until Rav Dovid wrote a second letter, where he stated, “my father said a person is dead if his brain doesn’t allow him to breath autonomically, even if the heart is breathing (underlined).” That quieted down the rumor, but never received an apology or retraction from those people who spread the rumor. There’s where halacha is debased by lack of integrity. Behind all halachic decision is the absolute integrity of the decisor. Once that integrity is questioned, then the halacha is denigrated in the process.