New Horizons in Medical Ethics

קהן, חיים. "New Horizons in Medical Ethics" (1993) Proceedings of the First International Colloquium – Medicine, Ethics& Jewish Law, עמ' 9.

New Horizons in Medical Ethics

New Horizons in Medical Ethics


Respected councilors, doctors, rabbis and jurists, ladies and gentlemen –

It is with awe and trepidation that I have the honor, on behalf of the Steering Committee and the Dr. Falk Schlesinger Institute for Research of Medicine and Halacha, of opening this International Conference on Medicine, Ethics and Halacha and of welcoming the participants, lecturers and guests who have come from near and far.

In recent years we have been witness to astounding progress in the field of medicine, with mankind's knowledge doubling itself and medicine reaching heights that were previously undreamed of. At the same time, much development has occurred in the field of medical halachic research. In a lecture given by Rabbi Lord Jacobovitz at a scientific conference organized by Yad Vashem dedicated to the subject of Israel after the Holocaust, it was stated that if we look at the great flowering of Torah study that has taken place in the State of Israel from immediately after the Holocaust until today, and we look for innovation, original thought and philosophical breakthrough, we shall find it mainly in the areas of Jewish law and the area of medicine and halacha.

As medicine progresses, as it succeeds in opening new horizons in lengthening human life and in creating it, it is continually faced with new, difficult  problems. Doctors have to decide on priorities in treatment, choosing to heal one patient over another; they have to decide whether to lengthen a human life and risk prolonging a patient’s suffering or to refrain from treatment in order to prevent further suffering of the patient.

Medical engineering is developing possibilities of artificial intervention in the creation of the fetus which can bring the blessing of children and much happiness to many unfortunate couples, but at the same time may cause confusion from moral, halachic, human and legal perspectives.

I shall not enumerate the range of dilemmas that have come about in modern medicine in our time. The doctor alone is unable to deal with the difficult decisions with which he is faced. He has neither the training nor the tools to do so, and he needs the assistance of professionals from other disciplines such as ethics, law, social work, etc.

We believe that this opens the door to the scope of Jewish ethics as reflected in the written law and tradition, and as codified in halacha and passed down from generation to generation. We believe that our eternal Torah contains practical answers for the dilemmas facing the modern doctor. Constant dialogue between halachic and medical representatives can lead us to solutions which are practical and applicable.

It is for this purpose that we have gathered you all under one roof, and we expect great things from this colloquium. This conference will attempt to deviate from the conventional format of frontal lectures. It will be based on questions which were asked by some of the participants who received our questionnaire over a year ago. The questions were reviewed by a team of rabbis and doctors, and on that basis seven main topics were chosen as the subjects for the working sessions of the conference.

Each session will begin with the presentation of the subject from the scientific point of view by a specialist in the field. A halachic survey will be given covering the points of contact between medical technology and halacha. Following this, the questions which have been prepared in advance will be asked, and they will be answered by leading halachic authorities.

The Schlesinger Institute has endeavored for nearly thirty years to promote knowledge and understanding of these topics. The rich variety of literature produced by the Institute, including Assia, JewishMedical Ethics, Nishmat Avrahamand the Encyclopedia of MedicalHalacha, bears witness to their efforts and served as the source for the wide-ranging selection of articles relating to the topics of the conference which you have all received.

This is the first international conference held by the Institute, and we are honored to have organized it in conjunction with the Albert Einstein School of Medicine  in New York. This cooperation bears witness to the expected level of the discussions.

As part of the conference, the inaugural bi-annual International Prize for Medicine and Halacha will be awarded to Rabbi Yehuda Eliezer Waldenberg. Rabbi Waldenberg is author of the TzitzEliezer and a pioneer in the field of medicine and halacha whose thousands of halachic responsa are collected in his many works.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the many people who have helped to organize the conference, headed by Professor Dov Hyman, Chairman of the Scientific Committee, and Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin, Director of the Schlesinger Institute. May you all be rewarded for your efforts. I hope that you derive benefit from the conference and that indeed "Torah shall go out from Zion."

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