From August 16-19, nine Yeshiva University students attended the 4th annual Jewish Medical Ethics Conference, a weekend lecture series on topics including controversial circumcision techniques, organ transplantation, practical medical halakha, elective medicine, and more. The lectures were given by some of the biggest names in the field of Jewish medical ethics and covered the most pertinent issues currently facing Torah-observant physicians.
The conference was co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future and run by Torah in Motion, a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to study and teach topics in Judaism. This year’s conference was held at the Heritage Hotel in Southbury, Connecticut, with the intention to involve both current Jewish medical professionals and students aspiring to join their ranks. As such, students were given the opportunity to apply for scholarships and attend the conference at a reduced rate.
Of the nine students who attended, three were Stern College women and six were Yeshiva College men. All nine plan to enter the field of medicine or dentistry and several are members of the Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society. The students who attended the Torah in Motion conference were audience to speakers such as Rabbi Dr. Eddie Reichman, professor at Einstein and mentor of the Medical Ethics Society; Rabbi Dr. Avraham Steinberg, author of the Encyclopedia of Medical Halakha; Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, Executive Vice President at Mercy Medical Center; Rabbi Dr. David Shabtai of RIETS Kollel Elyon; and Dr. Beni Gesundheit, professor of medical ethics at Bar Ilan in Israel. The students were able to ask questions and participate in the discussions generated during the lectures and programs, though they also enjoyed additional sessions specifically geared toward their interest in the field of medical halakha. The speakers and topics afforded the students a trove of practical advice regarding their future education and career path as Jewish physicians in a secular world. The overall message imparted to students was the importance of the personal responsibility they would assume upon entering the fast-paced medical world of ethical complexity and confusion.
The future of medicine will no doubt bring even more innovative and complicated procedures and technology, raising many ethical questions that will need reconciliation. From growing human organs inside animals and creating artificial hearts with no heartbeat to producing offspring grown from only one human’s DNA, the next generation of Torah-observant doctors will have to face many halakhic difficulties. They will be challenged to redefine the moments of life and death, what it means to be human, and the exact nature of physician’s role in the lives of the sick and healthy.
While ethicists in the past worried about physicians changing the characteristics of a human body and “playing G-d,” today’s ethicists expect physicians to soon create life itself. In a world that is quickly changing, the future is sure to bring both tremendous opportunity and potentially crippling challenges, though these nine Yeshiva University students are already preparing themselves to face the difficulties with respect for both the Torah laws and the medical realities.
This preparation to be equipped to handle medical ethics continues in all of the Medical Ethics Society Events. On October 21, the YU Medical Ethics Society will be hosting its own Jewish medical ethics conference entitled “Out of the Ashes: Jewish Approaches to Medical Dilemmas Borne out of the Holocaust.” Topics of that conference will include, among others: the ethical use of Nazi data, trans-generational trauma, and a personal account of Nazi experimentation.
Ari Rosenberg is a senior at YC and is Vice President of the YU Medical Ethics Society