By Rabbi Mordechai Biser Esq.
We received an emergency call this past week from the relative of a patient being treated in a major New York hospital. The patient, a man in his early 30s, was in a coma and the hospital had already begun testing for brain death. The hospital was about to do the final confirmatory test for brain death. If the test showed that the patient was brain dead, the plug on the ventilator that was keeping him breathing would be pulled thereafter.
Agudath Israel immediately contacted the hospital’s legal counsel and advised her of the health care surrogate’s opposition to brain death. We explained to her that under New York State health regulations, the hospital was obligated to accommodate the objection. The hospital agreed to refrain from conducting the final test in return for our agreement to try to find an alternative facility for the patient should his heart continue to beat for several more days. The patient subsequently died of cardiac arrest in the hospital while still on the ventilator and while continuing to receive medications.
Rabbi Mordechai Biser Esq. serves as General Counsel for Agudath Israel of America.