Defining Death

Contemporary Criteria for the Declaration of Death was my examination of developments in determining death based on neurological criteria (brain death) for the purpose of discontinuing life support and permitting the transplantation of vital organs. In it I affirmed the traditional significance of respiration, rather than cardiac activity, and argued that the permanent inability to breathe as indicated by the apnea test, combined with complete lack of brain function, fulfilled halakhic criteria for declaring death. This responsum was approved by the CJLS on September 8, 2004. I was interviewed on this subject for WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show on July 27, 2009. A revised version was published as chapter eight in Hakol Kol Yaakov, a jubilee volume in honor of Rabbi Joel Roth.