Averting Autopsies

Jewish law vs. State law -- who wins?

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Comments (20)

(20) Rani, November 19, 2007 11:23 AM


Obviously autopsies are needed at times which is why the Rabbis need to work together with law enforcement. Having said that I'm glad our religion generally forbids it. As a huge fan of "CSI Las Vegas" there is a memorable episode where csi Nick is in danger of dieing and is imagining his own autopsy down to the last detail since he is so familiar with what to expect. It really makes you understand what it means when it says the neshama feels pain at the body's desecration.

(19) frederick shuler, November 18, 2007 5:51 PM



(18) Anonymous, November 18, 2007 10:11 AM

I viewed an autopsy once

Once about 20 years ago while a nursing student, I viewed an autopsy. It was part of our learning experience as students. The body of the young woman was not treated with reverence, more like a lab specimen. I was invited to touch her bodily organs; I could not do it.It seemed so wrong to me to do so and I didnt like the attitude in which she was treated. Ironically, I was not Jewish then, but of the Christian faith.To me , she was someone's daughter,sister, or mother.I would not want a family memeher of mine treated in such a manner and I will fight any autopsies that might occur concerning my parents in the future.

(17) Esther, November 17, 2007 9:51 AM

come to israel!

If all Jews would live in Israel, where we really belong, we would not have to worry about such bizarre issues. Why are you trying to become more comfortable in exile? Make Aliya, try to convince your Jewish friends and neighbors too, and start living like a real, free, and proud Jew at last.
Believe me, it is worth the trouble.

(16) Susan, November 15, 2007 10:52 PM

Insurance denied

My dear friend lost her husband two years ago, he passed away at home and since she did not allow an autopsy, she was denied his life insurance monies. There was a question of when his last heart test was taken and of course, there were two different dates. They wanted to do an autopsy. She has been to one lawyer and he now has decided to not fight for her. She is at peace knowing he did not have the autopsy. The money was not worth it to her. This is a difficult article for me to write, my daughter is now in medical school. Since her Sophomore year in high school, she has wanted to be a medical examiner, to help the living solve the crime or find the possible cure. I have witnessed with reverence the students treat the bodies in gross anatomy class. They have a service, prayer, candle lighting and invite the donor families at the end of the quarter to share a meal and partake in any questions or comments and to get to know the students and visa versa. The body belongs to G-d, we are supposed to take good care of it. I am just now learning how important all of this is to us.

(15) Anonymous, November 14, 2007 10:23 PM

performing an autopsy is a sacred task

My father, of blessed memory, was a pathologist. Though they should not be done without "due cause," through him I learned that autopsies are properly viewed as a sacred duty, not a desecration of a body. On those occasions when it's merited, the best way to honor the deceased is by discovering why it is that the person died. If done with the right kavanah, doing an autopsy is doing a mitzvah.

(14) david sievers, November 14, 2007 4:36 PM


Moraturi vivos docent. The dead teach the living

(13) Anonymous, November 14, 2007 1:50 PM

There should be a change...

My beloved husband died after suffering with Aids and though they knew what caused his death, performed an autopsy without asking my permission. When I found out 3 month after his death about the autopsy, I went to my Rabbi very distraut that they had done this to my husband who suffered enough with this terrible illness. No one should have to see that their loved one is cut up, UNLESS the person died suddenly or suspicously. May G-d forgive me for not knowing what they did to my husband until 3 months later when I was well enough to see the death certificate.

(12) Anonymous, November 14, 2007 8:58 AM

must live with respect for the body before can understand it in death

If one looks around and sees that people do not respect their bodies whiel the person is alive, it is obvous that they would not view it as sacred after death.

The proliferation of body pearsing and tattoing and use of drugs and other destructive activity makes it obvious that we must learn that the body is sacred while serving the person who is alive before we can properly understand how to treat the body after death.

The Jewish laws governing preparing a corpse for burial are instructive in this very vital matter.

Once we learn to live with diginity we can learn to treat those who are no longer living with proper dignity

(11) Linda, November 14, 2007 8:36 AM

the children

The pain I felt when they cut up and hurt my precious daughter's body with her autopsy is as real today and brings as many tears writing this as 10 months ago. She was a special needs baby and they knew there was no abuse, they knew she could not fight the infection that took her, they knew she was being treated and too weak to fight. Yet they cut her open like a fish and the pain of it is overwhelming. State law, state law. G_d forgive us what they did to my baby. So that they could write pneumonia on her certificate, which they already knew. G_d forgive.

(10) Dr.Eli Lasch, November 14, 2007 5:34 AM

I totally agree with Mrs Gibson. I have learned a lot from Autopsies and could save many lives. Is not Pikuach Nephesh the basic Mitzwa?.

(9) Eleanor Gibson, November 14, 2007 2:09 AM


Why are you assuming that an autopsy is descration? I have attended several and the respect and treatment of the body is as if they were still alive and a surgery was being done.

(8) Barry E Lerner, November 13, 2007 9:05 PM

Sorry, in this you're wrong. Autopsies serve a compelling state need to rule out criminal activity. Even "obvious" causes of death, such as auto accidents, must be investigated, since they can be used to cover up a crime. Blood samples, etc, just don't do it. When so serious a crime as murder is possible, it takes precedence over the sensibilities of the family, one of whom, it should be noted, could be the murderer. Conversely, evidence adduced at autopsy may exonerate someone who would otherwise be under a cloud of suspicion. Does not the pursuit of justice take precendence over the sanctity of a corpse? What do you think God would say?

(7) Nesanel S, November 13, 2007 6:33 PM


The concept is absolutely astounding! Because, as I have seen recently, the reason that it is forbidden is because since the body served the person, we respect it greatly for what it is; to bury it etc. and not to do anything disrespectful. When we think about this is absolutely astounding. Because we are discussing the body; a physical being and yet we accord so much respect - out of recognition of the good we had from it. (As it says in the verse (in Iyov 10:11) "With skin and meat You clothed me and with bones and sinews You covered me. Thus, explains the Chofetz Chayim in the beginning of Sefer Sh'miras Halashon, we see that the verse has mentioned all the parts of the body and yet calls them only; a 'clothing' and a 'covering'. And whom do they cover; if not for the soul inside of us. (Sh'miras Halashon p. 1)
So this is just amazing!
In halacha - Jewish way of life - it is discussed regarding detail of concept of figuring out what is the cause of a disease. I think it says that if there is a large plague, then it may be a question. However, it must be taken into consideration if it is really being done for such or just as a standard experiment so to say. This is not simple. For this, autopsy is not allowed.
p.s. I think the law of the land concept only applies in matters of health and safety; like stopping by a traffic light or other issues like monetary and etc. However, if we hold that something is wrong, we may not do it. And we learn from these days of Chanuka, that we should stand up and fight and then in His mercy, we will be successful. In Brooklyn there is an organization started by a rabbi who was very involved in these matters. It is called Misaskim. Lit. 'Those who are involved'. They bring low chairs to homes of mourners and much more like prayer books and even water coolers for those who come to console. Also one of their great accomplishments is working with medical examiners office and succeeding greatly. (You can punch in this word on Google. They don't seem to have their own site, but you can still see a lot.) In a recent brochure, they wrote how the head met with a NJ doctor who knew of non invasive methods as the rabbi mentioned, as is trying to spread it as a last resort if they really want to find information about the deceased.
p.s. Not to be harsh, but I know of a story where an older man was killed by a speeding cop. They tried to find a relative so he could sign off the autopsy. However, when they did, he said 'what will be with insurance'. They went ahead, but then he had difficulties with the insurance because it had been late a night (coming from a wedding) and it seems there were no direct witnesses.
So, we are more special than we understand! Even the body is so special! Let us use the tools we have both body and items to accomplish Sactifiying His name! I may have touched on some deep concepts, but please forgive me, I only mean good.
p.p.s. A rabbi was giving a speech during a seminar for Doctors. He was trying to convey the messsage that a person is not just a body, but there is also a soul; a higher purpose.
Then, the head of the seminar raised his hand and asked, "Are you really convinced about this concept that a person has a soul. - Everyone held their breath. - The rabbi thought for a moment and said. "No, I don't beleive I have a soul". - You could hear a pin drop.
He continued, "Wait, I'm not finished!". He said, "I don;t beleive I have a sould, I beleive I am a soul - - - and I have a body!!" He received a standing ovation. (Rabbi Greewald who is also a psychologist in Monsey NY). Enjoy in good health!

(6) Eliana, November 13, 2007 11:07 AM

Finding unknown illnesses

How can one rely on a blood sample for an autopsy? If the deceased isn't brought to the hospital for several hours, isn't it possible that some enzymes and other proteins will have been degraded, preventing the medical examiner from knowing if certain biomedical pathways had been active or not during life? In such cases, perhaps internal body tissues can provide important clues to the person's condition. But will a CAT scan show enough detail of soft tissue to find such clues? Wouldn't the examiner also need to evaluate the texture and appearance of internal body organs to determine the extent of disease in some cases?

(5) Adam, November 13, 2007 10:51 AM

The law of the land is the law

I thought that a fundamental precept in Judaism is that the law of the land is the law, except in the most extreme circumstances. In the case of autopsy, it is my understanding that these are *not* performed, except under instances of a suspicious death; in other words, under the precise circumstances where the law of the land *is* Jewish law.

(4) Esti, November 13, 2007 2:22 AM

The more we respect the human body (never mind it's soul) as a society, the less crime there will be against it.

(3) Mary, November 12, 2007 10:55 AM

I disagree

A friend is dealing with the death of a 73 year old healthy New Yorker friend of hers where the woman's will was changed, changing the executor and the beneficiary to the same person, and within 1 week of that change she is found dead, and the new executor showed up and canceled the autopsy and took the body and cremated it, and now if it was a murder there is no evidence left. So that appears to be the effect of the law in New York. The woman did not have a husband nor children. Her friends do not live in New York.

(2) Joe Stepen, November 12, 2007 5:41 AM

What about a murder where cause of death is required by local law?

What about local laws that mandate autopsies in the event of suspected murder in order to gather evidence?

(1) Rosen, November 11, 2007 8:59 AM

finding cause of death in autopsies

While I agree that our bodies do not belong to us, where we (at least us Jews) should not get our skin tattooed or pierced, as far as an autopsy goes, how will certain families find out what caused their loved one's death, such as that from strokes, heart failure, or drug overdoses?


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