Rabbi Gedaliah Rabinowitz
Rabinowitz: The conclusion that I have drawn from the analysis that we have done of many sugyot in Shas, in the Talmud, among them, the Gemura in Yuma and the Mishna Ohalos, but other sources as well, have brought us to the conclusion that brain stem death is considered halachic death.
If I was asked such a question, the question being, a person is in a situation where there’s brain stem death and he’s lingering on,
Interviewer: “What do you mean, his hearts continuing to beat because he’s still on a ventilator?”
Rabinowitz: His heart continues to beat because he’s still on a ventilator. And it’s not a question of a half hour or an hour or so where you can say, I’ll wait and then do the transplants. And if I’ll wait till there’s total cessation of heartbeat, these organs, you’re not going to be able to use these organs to save a life and I was asked a question in a community where I, if I were the rabbi in that community and I am the one that has to make that decision, I would tell these people that you’re allowed to do this. If I was part of a larger community were there were many rabbis on the poskim, I would say please go to somebody else. Where I’m confronted with a situation where I have to make a decision, that would be my decision.
Interviewer: “So you view Pikuach Nefesh as overriding the nivul hamet?”
Rabinowitz: Well it’s not that I view it that way, I think the side, the Binyan Zion for some reason held otherwise, poskim, the Nodeh B’Yehuda as the leading posek, believe that way. I was investigating; I wanted to find out what it was. I didn’t do it myself, I was working with a prominent physician and he helped me, I couldn’t have done it on my own.
Interviewer: “What was his name?”
Rabinowitz: Mordechai Konigsberg, I menteioned in Matu Yatzeh and he, we worked together, he’s a Talmid Chacham as well, we put in countless hours of work, both the time that he had to spend to teach me the anatomy and the physiology involved and the time that we had to spend together going through all the sugyos in the Gemura and we raised questions and we went up and back, up and back, and we came to that conclusion. We haven’t found any source, any halachic source that runs counter to our conclusion. I’m still waiting today from all these years, this is how many years already, thirty-some-odd years, I’m waiting today somebody should come along and prove us wrong. I haven’t seen anybody with a convincing argument yet.
Interviewer: “Where did you publish the article and in what year was it published?”
Rabinowitz: It was published in Tishreh Tov Shin Lamed Alef, which is September 1970, in a journal put out by the Rabinical Coouncil of America, it’s called Hadaron.
Interviewer: “Do you have any first hand, and only asking for first hand… did you have any first hand conversations with any gedolei ha’Torah who are in this issue, from Rav Moshe Feinstein to Rav Shlomo Zalman Orbach to anyone about brain stem death or organ donation?”
Rabinowitz: The only one that I had an occasion to discuss it with was Zam Rechemye Goldberg, who is one of the biggest poskim today. He happens to also accept brain steam death…
Interviewer: “As halachic death…”
Rabinowitz: …as halachic death. I didn’t go to discuss the issue with him, a dear friend of mine who is a neurologist, had certain questions about certain developments, recent developments, and how to approach investigations of certain kinds of tests for brain stem death. So I told him, I said I don’t want to take it upon myself, so I took him to Zam Rechemye Goldberg and he accepted whatever he described to him, accepted the guidelines and that was what he did. He took it for granted that this is so.
Interviewer: “Was that in your presence?”
Rabinowitz: Yes, we discussed it together.
Interviewer: “So he accepts the Gemura, he understands the numerous possibilities…?”
Rabinowitz: Yes so he was on the committee of Rabbinot Hashit…when was that…
Rabinowitz: I don’t recall when it was, but he was on the committee and I think he was one of the main deciders.