Category Archives: Health & Medicine

Court Denies Preliminary Injunction in Circumcision Case

Last week a federal judge ruled that the New York City Department of Health can require mohelim to obtain parental consent before they perform circumcision involving the ritual of metzitzah b’peh (MBP). (Click here for the text of the decision in Central Rabbinical Congress v. NYC Dept. of Health)

MBP, as defined by the Court in this case, is a “practice among some observant Jews in which a ritual circumciser, or mohel,” places his mouth on the place of circumcision in order to draw blood away from the wound. (The halachic background behind MBP will be discussed briefly below, and at greater length in an upcoming post.)

The regulation at issue is § 181.21 of the New York City Health Code, which: defines “direct oral suction” as it relates to circumcision; requires that written parental consent be obtained before “direct oral suction” is performed during circumcision; and requires the person performing the circumcision to keep the consent form for at least one year.

Before the regulation took effect, several Jewish advocacy groups, along with some mohelim, sued the NYC Dept. of Health to prevent its enforcement. However, they were dealt a big setback last week when U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald denied their request for a preliminary injunction. Continue reading

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Medical Marijuana and Jewish Law

By Dr. Wallace Greene

On April 16, Greenleaf Compassion Center in Montclair was issued a permit by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to begin growing medicinal marijuana. A permit to dispense medicinal marijuana will be issued to Greenleaf when its dispensary is operational. That is expected to occur in about six months.

A physician’s task is to heal and to do no harm. Jewish medical oaths as well as the Hippocratic oath constantly emphasize the palliative aspect of medical care. Jewish law has codified the role of the physician, and prescribes strict standards regarding the treatment of patients.

It has been documented that marijuana is an analgesic for sufferers of nausea related to chemotherapy, appetite, and weight loss related to AIDS, migraine headaches, Alzheimer’s, muscle spasms, fibromyalgia, arthritic pain, glaucoma, and other conditions. If marijuana is superior to other drugs, and concerns raised about its continued usage, we need to analyze a number of pertinent halachic issues. We need to determine whether it is permissible to prescribe marijuana according to Jewish law.

We are not dealing with legal issues from the perspective of secular law. Other states have legalized medical marijuana and New Jersey is only months away from doing so. Our discussion is framed by strictly halachic considerations.

Even where marijuana has been legalized, do its dangerous side effects militate against its use? Does compassion for the patient override concerns of possible long-term harm? Under which circumstances may a patient put himself into a potentially harmful situation? If the non-medicinal properties of marijuana promote a feeling of well-being so that a patient feels relief, does that constitute a valid reason to prescribe it?  Continue reading

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Government-Mandated Healthcare: Halakha and Social Policy

By Chaim Apfel, J.D.

This article was printed in Volume 3 of Verapo Yerape. Republished with permission.

I. Introduction

The role that governments have played in caring for the level of public health has changed dramatically over the course of the twentieth century worldwide. In the United States this role has recently undergone a dramatic change with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as well as the Healthcare and Education Affordability Act. With all of these changes, many of the policies that were debated touched upon legal issues that have existed for thousands of years across many civilizations. It would be useful to compare how these issues were treated according to Jewish laws and values. The purpose of this paper is to explain what ethical rules should govern a government healthcare plan and to explain how such a plan should be implemented.

II. Two Distinct Biblical Commandments for Charity

Arguably, the most fundamental ethical issue that the statute addresses is to what extent individuals can be compelled to provide for their poor. The Biblical law mandating charity can be found in two locations. The first section addresses society’s reaction to abject poverty. Continue Reading –> 

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Jewish Man’s Mt. Rainier Death Fuels Unusual Autopsy Fight

The following is from The Olympian (Olympia, WA), Dec. 24, 2011:

The death of a 54-year-old Jewish man on a snowy slope on Mount Rainier this month set the stage for a Pierce County court fight pitting religious belief against scientific certainty.

Brian Grobois of New Rochelle, N.Y., died on a solo snowshoe hike, apparently from hypothermia. His body was recovered Dec. 13.

Three days later, a judge upheld an appeal barring Pierce County’s medical examiner from conducting an autopsy on Grobois’ body because of religious objections from the family. It’s believed to be the first time that has occurred in Pierce County.

The case attracted the interest of County Executive Pat McCarthy, Gov. Chris Gregoire, Jewish leaders from around the country and even nationally known consumer-rights attorney Erin Brockovich.

Grobois was an Orthodox Jew. Jewish law requires that the body be returned to the earth complete and as quickly as possible so the soul can rest and the family can properly grieve, said Rabbi Zalman Heber, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Pierce County.

Heber said Jewish law also considers autopsies a desecration. Orthodox Jews adhere to the traditional interpretation of the Torah and its laws. “This is not a matter of life and death. This is a matter of death and afterlife,” Heber said Friday. He helped the Grobois family and rallied support for their cause across the country.

But Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Clark said state law clearly empowers him to investigate unnatural deaths. He determined an autopsy was needed to answer questions that arose in his mind about how Grobois died.

Continue reading –>

For summaries of other cases dealing with autopsies of Jewish decedents, click here.

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Death: Biological State or Halachic-Legal Status?

A Review of Really Dead?, by Naftali Moses, PhD

The determination of the moment of death is one of the most perplexing issues in modern medicine. Perhaps the primary reason for this is the fact that defining death is not only a medical issue. In fact, the debate over what constitutes “death,” and at what point (if any) organs can be taken from “deceased” donors, has included not only medical professionals, but lawyers, religious leaders, and politicians as well.

In the state of Israel, though, the discourse has been unique, in large part due to the inclusion of the views of Jewish law and the participation of the Israeli Rabbinate. In Really Dead?, Naftali Moses, who holds a PhD in medical history, explores the relationship between the secular-scientific and rabbinic groups in Israel over a twenty-year period (1967-1986). Continue reading

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New York City’s Smoking Ban: A Halachic Perspective

Tomorrow, a new law takes effect in New York City that prohibits smoking in parks and pedestrian plazas. (Click here for the text of the bill passed by the City Council, and here for the law it has amended, N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 17-503.)  This legislation is the newest of numerous smoking bans enacted by state and local governments across America. (Click here for a list of U.S. smoking bans.) Some cities in California have even gone so far as to prohibit smoking in any public areas, including streets and sidewalks. (Click here for the El Cajon smoking ordinance, and here for that of Loma Linda.) Opponents of such laws argue that they infringe on the individual liberties of smokers, while proponents, on the other hand, say they are concerned for the public health. For some legal analysis of such legislation, see Patrick Kabat, “Till Naught But Ash Is Left To See”: Statewide Smoking Bans, Ballot Initiatives and the Public Sphere, 9 Yale J. Health Pol’y, L. & Ethics 128 (2009) (earlier version available here); Justin C. Levin, Protect Us Or Leave Us Alone: The New York State Smoking Ban, 68 Alb. L. Rev. 183 (2004) (available here).

In contrast to the American legislative response to the health concerns of second-hand smoke, which focuses on the effect on the public, some halachic authorities go one step further and prohibit smoking in public places even if it would cause harm or discomfort to an individual.  Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat, vol. 2 § 18) addressed the following question:

Can members of a kollel smoke in the shul or beis hamedrash in which they learn and daven if there are other kollel members who cannot bear the smoke and who become physically ill from inhaling it?

Continue reading

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Does Religious Observance Lead to Obesity? – Jewish and American Laws on Healthy Eating

Northwestern University School of Medicine recently released the results of a study of obesity amongst religious young adults. The investigation reportedly revealed that young adults who attend religious activities at least once a week were 50% more likely to become obese by middle age, as compared to young adults with no religious involvement. (Click here for more information.) While some may be skeptical as to the conclusions drawn from this investigation, the study does raise the issue of religious––particularly, Jewish––views on healthy eating habits. First, however, let us look how American legislatures and courts have addressed the issue.

As every American consumer has probably recognized, nearly all manufactured foods sold in stores must contain a “Nutrition Facts” label, pursuant to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, 21 U.S.C. § 343(q), designed to promote healthy eating habits. Perhaps more interesting than this legislative action are lawsuits brought against fast food chains alleging that the restaurants negligently manufacture and sell unhealthy foods and fail to warn consumers about the risks of consuming them. Continue reading

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