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Life in the Balance:

Jewish Perspectives on Everyday Medical Dilemmas

Course Overview

Modern medicine has brought us near miracles. It's also brought us some of the most difficult decisions we'll ever have to face. Are we obliged to prolong life even at the cost of terrible suffering? Should we legalize the sale of organs, such as kidneys, to save the lives of transplant patients? May a woman with a multiple-fetus pregnancy opt for fetal reduction, thus forfeiting the lives of some to possibly save others? When it seems that every available option is morally questionable, how do we decide?

Fortunately for us all, Torah and the Talmud are not silent about such matters. And this course will show you what they have to say.

When it comes to the ethics of medicine, we’re going to get real — in the most dramatic possible way. We'll discuss actual case studies, examining many possible viewpoints as we come to grips with the issue that matters most: What kind of action — or inaction — should we take? When should we take it? And when do we edge too close to playing G-d?

More intriguing than any fictional TV show, this course will prepare you for choices that you or a loved one may be called upon to make. It is also a fascinating exposure to little-discussed aspects of Judaism.


Lesson Details

  • Lesson 1 Safeguarding Our Health: BRCA, Genetic Testing, and Preventive Measures

    We all endeavor to protect our health, but we often question whether we do enough. Scientists have recently identified the BRCA genetic mutations (common in Ashkenazi Jews) that significantly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Are you obliged to test for it? And if you have it, how far should you go in taking preventive measures? Where do you draw the line between keen vigilance and pointless panic?

  • Lesson 2  End-of-life Dilemmas: Prolonging Life vs. Prolonging Death

    Resuscitate? Do not resuscitate? How does one decide what to inscribe in their living will? The value of life is immeasurable, but is the same true for its increments? This lesson discusses the important end-of-life decisions that we need to make today, and offers Jewish perspectives on dying with dignity.


  • Lesson 3 Complications in Pregnancy: Aborting One Life to save Another

    Couples undergoing fertility treatment are often advised to reduce the number of fetuses in order to save a high-risk pregnancy. May we end the life of one or two to save the lives of many? Is the fetus considered a life? This lesson discusses Judaism’s view on the status of the fetus, and the ethics of choosing one life over another.


  • Lesson 4 Confronting the Organ Shortage: Should the Sale of Organs Be Legal?

    Permitting the sale of organs may significantly increase the number of organs available for transplant, potentially saving many thousands of lives. But what effects will this have on human dignity, and on the destitute pressed to sell organs to feed their families? Is our obligation to save lives a precedent to override these concerns?


  • Lesson 5 Sanctity in Death: Autopsy and Medical Dissection

    Many states allow medical schools to use unclaimed cadavers for anatomical dissection. Is this ethical? Is it ever moral to perform an autopsy over a family's objections? Would Jewish law allow one to voluntarily donate his or her body to science? This lesson will examine how Jewish law balances the dignity of the dead with the needs of society.


  • Lesson 6 A Gift of Generations: The Ethics of Uterine Transplants

    Until now, surrogacy has been the only solution for women without a healthy womb. However, a recently popularized new fertility treatment, promises to bring them renewed hope. This lesson addresses fascinating ethical concerns surrounding uterine and other non-vital-organ transplants and surgical procedures.

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