July 14, 1978

Jewish Law and Time of Death

Author Affiliations

Brisk Rabbinical College Skokie, III

JAMA. 1978;240(2):109. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03290020031008

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To the Editor.—  The article dealing with brain death (238:1651, 1977) contains a serious misinterpretation of Jewish law pertaining to establishment of the time of death. The statement that "absent heartbeat or pulse was not considered a significant factor in ascertaining death in any early religious sources" is a manifest error. In fact, the source to which the reader is directed by the footnote, Babylonian Talmud Tractate Yoma 85A, serves to establish precisely the opposite position. Jewish law recognizes the presence of any vital function, including heart action, as indicative of at least residual life. Termination of such life by means of "pulling the plug" or otherwise constitutes an act of homicide.Moreover, a sharp distinction must be drawn between partial and total destruction of the brain. The authors state that the Harvard criteria signify that "when the criteria have been fulfilled, there is widespread destruction of the brain" and