Death by Halakha

8 12 2010

Dr Noam Stadlan writes a truly fascinating (if not somewhat terminologically dense) overview of the development of halakhic determinations of death. From his conclusion:

The Halachic discussion contains two basic positions…: The line between life and death is defined by circulation, and the line between life and death is defined by neurological criteria. If I have been successful in demonstrating that using circulation is no longer logically coherent, the only position remaining is that death is defined by neurological criteria. Therefore the Halachic argument between circulation and neurological criteria is over, and the discussion of necessity needs to shift to the particulars of the neurological criteria. Either the existing neurologically based definitions of death can be accepted…, or further possibilities can be explored.

I recommend the article and, if not the entirety of it, most certainly §9 (“What is a Human Being?”), which sums up very nicely Dr Stadlan’s reasons for abandoning one model in favour of another. The author’s concern is with the application of the halakha, but his writing has some fascinating theoretical aspects to it as well. For one, I think that his article raises a number of interesting questions in terms of what the originators of halakha might have considered “human”, what they might have considered “living”, and when they might have felt that something straddled the line between either of those things and its logical counterpart.

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3 responses

16 12 2010
noam stadlan

Thanks for the mention. I am sorry if there was too much jargon. The issue is too complex to reduce to a few sentences(it actually could have been much much longer… :-) ) Please feel free to email me for any clarifications. I think that in the time of the Gemara the concept of the soul would have been the determining factor in consideration of what is human or living, and that the definitions of death found there are reflections of the practical medical knowledge and scientific assumptions of the time. What I tried to point out is that the medical knowledge and assumptions have changed not only over time, but especially in the last 60 years.

16 12 2010
George

couldn’t access it for some reason, is there another way to read the article?

18 12 2010
noam stadlan

the blog is having server problems. I assume they will be fixed soon. if you email me I can send you a word copy. noamstadlan-at-gmail-dot-com

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