A New, Poignant Wrinkle in the “Quality of Life” Issue

Is a mother who suffered devastating brain damage during delivery still a mother? Should her triplet toddlers have any contact with her, or be spared the shock and potential guilt? Should the court accept the views of the physicians who consider her to be in an irreversible vegetative state, or those of her parents and caregivers, who see her as alert, responsive, and communicative through an eyelid? What would a beis din say, where the accepted standard is that parents have no visitation or other “rights” per se, but (based on a teshuva of the Rosh) the best interests of the child hold sway?

Many questions, all still awaiting answers. The fact that the couple is frum and now divorced adds another layer of pathos to this story in today’s LA Times.

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13 Responses

  1. DovInBeitShemesh says:

    Fascinating and tragic case.

    One note is that the focus on the best interests of the child is not “only” a teshuva of the Rosh. It’s also the Maharam MiPadua as brought le’halacha by the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch, and many poskim (such as Kvod HaRav Shternbuch) say that it’s the intention of Chazal.

    That said, it’s important to note that most poskim are hesitant to discard Chazal’s focus on the importance of a child’s mother during the first 6 years. The article seems to support that in the story of one of the childrens question.

    All that said, it seems to me that the best interest of kids is a lot more complicated than is given credit. The father doesn’t want the kids to feel guilty, but there are other aspects to it. Does the father want to be the one to tell his kids in a few years that they have a mother and that he’s not told them the truth all along about the subject? Is to clearly better for the kids not to have an answer about their mother?

    It seems to me that there exist middle grounds. But it’s no complicated that it seems to me that the kids side needs as much professional assessment as the mother’s condition.

  2. Shua Cohen says:

    Unfortunately, this story is being played out in the national news, both on-line at ABC News, and on TV/Good Morning America.
    Photos of the husband in black hat and full beard are prominently displayed.

    I perused many of the feedback comments on the ABC News website. The commenters — having viewed the Good Morning America video — almost unanimously support the grandparents in their quest for visitation for the children with the mother. And they are nearly unanimously condemning of the father, whose “Jewish religiosity” is being labeled a fraud. Whether intended or not, the result of this episode is yet again, a huge Chillul Hashem being played out before an audience of millions of goyim.

    I have a 4 year old daughter, the same age as the triplets of this story. It is clear to me, from the video, that the mother is in not in any way in such a state of “disability” that she is physically grotesque or repugnant to the extent that she would traumatize a 4 year old child. I cannot help but believe that, based on the visual evidence, these children should have been around “mommy” from the very beginning. Having missed that opportunity it may be a tad more difficult for them now. Nevertheless, with thoughtful explanation and preparation, these children could be easily introduced to their mother. “Mommy is sick, she can’t talk and needs to stay in bed, but she loves you and really wants to see you” is just about the worst of it. This *appears* to be so obvious, that one cannot blame millions of viewers from suspecting the motives and character of the father. And as a frum Jew, I cannot but help wonder whether or not the father has sought out competent halachic guidance in this case.

    This whole thing is a tragedy of huge proportions: for the family primarily, but also for Klal Yisrael, in that we have ‘one of our own’ out in the public arena being looked upon as an object of scorn.

  3. Southern Belle says:

    How did the father give a get in this case?

    [YA – He got a heter meah rabbanan]

  4. Jose says:

    What I found revolting is that so many form an opinion without knowing any details of the story. All they read is one side’s version and a sensentionalized one at that. And yet, that is the trend of so many posters on blogs and in fact blog writers as well.

    Any time that I have read in any news outlet details of a case to which I had actual specific knowledge I have noted that any resemblence in the article to the actual truth/facts was purely coincidental. That disparity is magnified dare I say a hundredfold in blog posts and commentors.

    I will not post on this case an opinion other than it is terrible that this young woman and her family suffered such a tragedy, because that is the only fact that I, or anyone else can reasonably comment on based solely on what is reported..

  5. Shira Halperin says:

    Why don’t they show the mother videos of the children that she can enjoy? If the mother is just lying there, unable to speak or interact witht he children, and might even scream in pain, what do the children get out of seeing her? It seems that the grandparents should try to see the kids more…
    What a tragedy for everyone…
    Also, don’t know what happened in this story, but fertility treatments and multiples can be dangerous…if women have a choice, they should implant one embryo (yes, I know an embryo can split…but many people implant 4 in the hopes that 2 or 3 will take or implant 2 and then one or both splits..there are many horror stories with carrying tripltets, we tend to focus ont he happy ones…

  6. dovid says:

    Shua Cohen,

    You agree this would be a complicated case to be judged even by the most learned dayanim. I don’t know who is right. Neither do you. The father fighting against visitation rights is not causing Chillul Hashem just because ABC News, Good Morning America, and those watching the news from such outlets think otherwise. There are people who think that kosher sh’chita is cruelty to animals. Would that make it Chillul Hashem? Certainly not.

  7. Shua Cohen says:

    Dovid: I see a disconnect between the beginning and end of your comment.

    Indeed, the issue at hand poses a conundrum, and arguments can be made to support either side. But there is no similar conundrum about such issues as sh’chita (and for example bris milah, which is considered by some to be as “cruel” as sh’chita). And so you are correct to conclude that practitioners of sh’chita (and bris milah) never make chilulei Hashem. The reason is that these issues, as halacha, are NOT open to debate, and we are obligated to practice them even if they should bring calumny upon as as observant Jews). In other words, there is no “gray” area in sh’chita and milah.

    But this has no comparison to the issue at hand, where the halacha is not so clear, and therefore there is room to evaluate the arguments framing both sides of the issue. In the court of public opinion this Orthodox Jewish father is being excoriated. Now, it may be argued that this is totally unreasonable. BUT, on the other hand, it has yet to be demonstrated that there is any halachic validity to the father’s actions either. Their is no davka halacha backing the father, requiring that objections to his actions be ignored (as objections to sh’chita and milah must be ignored).

    So we end up that, if the weight of public opinion winds up coinciding with a legitimate Torah perspective that the father’s actions are objectionable, then the result is a Chilul Hashem.

  8. dovid says:

    “But there is no similar conundrum about such issues as sh’chita”
    Really? The Swiss banned kosher slaughter ever since 1893. Sh’chita is currently banned in Sweden. Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Holland. England would love to ban it, but can’t because it would have to ban Muslim ritual slaughter as well which is politically feasible.
    “… no comparison to the issue at hand, where the halacha is not so clear,…”
    “it has yet to be demonstrated that there is any halachic validity to the father’s actions either.”
    “ There is no davka halacha backing the father, requiring that objections to his actions be ignored”
    Are these your musing, or do you know for a fact that a Charedi Beis Din ruled on this issue, or tried to rule and the dayanim lifted up their hands in desperation and stated that they can’t arrive at a ruling because in your words “the halacha is not clear”? Can you give details?
    “In the court of public opinion this Orthodox Jewish father is being excoriated.”
    In the court of public opinion, you and me, our families and friends, Israel are regarded as nuisances to be excoriated, and even liquidated. Do you need proofs that “the court of public opinion” is not ratzon Hashem?

    “the father’s actions are objectionable” only when and if Daas Torah regards them as such. Then, if the father persists in his objectionable actions, the result would be Chilul Hashem. Not before that.

  9. dovid says:

    Shua Cohen,

    The end of the second line in my post should read: England would love to ban it [sh’chita], but can’t because it would have to ban Muslim ritual slaughter as well which is NOT politically feasible.

  10. Shua Cohen says:

    Dovid: You are completely missing my point, but I admit that it may be my fault, for failing to adequately express what I mean. Let me take once last stab at it. If I do not succeed, then maybe my communication skills are not up to the task.

    1) The fact that countries ban sh’chita does NOT make the issue a conundrum for Jews! Why not? Because the opposition to sh’chita poses no moral, ethical, civil legal or halachic challenges to us. The Torah has spoken (i.e. Hashem has declared that sh’chita is proper and required if we wish to each meat) and so that’s the end of the story. There is, of course, a practical ramification — being the added difficulty of getting meat in such countries — but we do not and cannot accept public opinion as expressing some kind of emes al pi Torah, i.e. there is nothing to debate.

    2)Now, in the present case, al pi Torah there IS room for debate, so we would understand quite well if one poseik (or Beis Din) ruled one way, and another poseik (or Beis Din) ruled the opposite. Now, of course, the court of public opinion is at times irrelevant, as per the examples that you gave, i.e. if public opinion excoriates Israel or calls for the liquidation of Jews. But the case that I am making is when public opinion happens to COINCIDE with a valid Torah perspective. So for example, if a “rov” of the public believes that the father is acting improperly, and if there is a valid Torah perspective which validates the public’s viewpoint, then what’s the result? Well, it’s exactly as you said, and I quote: “Then, if the father persists in his objectionable actions, the result would be Chilul Hashem.”

    This is why I opined in my original comment that I hoped that the father had competent halachic guidance in his (now very public) fight to deny his ex-wife access to their children. I fear that if he is depending on a sympathetic LOR — as opposed to a gadol b’Yisrael — well, that is hardly Daas Torah, and he (and the Orthodox velt) have a serious problem here.

    And by way of explanation, that’s the best I can do.

  11. dovid says:

    ““rov” of the public”
    There is no such concept in Yiddishkeit.

    You don’t know how Daas Torah would rule. Neither do I. You keep speculating and pushing for hypothetical cases if this happened or that happened. I suggest you should suspend judgment until we know how Daas Torah views the case. BTW, Kiddush Hashem is not when the crowds cheer us; neither is Chilul Hashem when they boo us.

  12. Shua Cohen says:


    > “rov of the public” — There is no such concept in Yiddishkeit.

    >> Who ever said that this is a concept in Yiddishkeit? It’s a concept in the reality of the world, i.e. the “rov” of the public is just an expression I used to indicate the “majority” of public opinion. If you’re going to set up a straw man to knock down, please don’t choose such an innocuous one. Sorry, but your comment has no relevance to the issue at hand.

    > “you should suspend judgment until we know how Daas Torah views the case.”

    >> First of all, I have eyes, I have a brain, I have fairly decent intellectual capabilities…so excuse me, but I have the ability to form an educated opinion about the issue. If Daas Torah should later cause me to re-evaluate my opinion, so be it. Secondly, what happens if Daas Torah never speaks, because the father in this case is consulting his own cheering squad alone? That’s my fear. And in the interim, much damage is being done to the credibility of Orthodox Jews. We may wish that it wasn’t the case…but it’s happening nonetheless.

    > “Kiddush Hashem is not when the crowds cheer us; neither is Chilul Hashem when they boo us.”

    >> Sorry Dovid, on this I disagree with you fundamentally. As a shliach of the Ribbono Shel Olam in this world, ANY action of a Jew which brings honor and respect to the Torah is a “Kiddush Hashem.” So when the crowds cheer us as “Jews” because we’ve acted with yashrus, it’s a Kiddush Hashem. Conversely, if the crowd boos us because we’ve acted dishonorably al pi Torah (Chas v’Shalom), that’s a Chillul Hashem. And don’t ask (as is your wont): what if the crowd boos us because they hate Jews? This is NOT what I’m talking about and it’s not what I just wrote!)

    > “You keep speculating and pushing for hypothetical cases.”

    >> No, I’m looking at the facts on the ground. (1) This father is steadfastly refusing to allow his children to visit their mother; (2) there has been zero indication that he is being guided by Daas Torah of any sort (G-d willing we will find out that a gadol is standing behind him, but the fact is that no one has come forward to claim that it’s so); (3) in the absence of any proof to the contrary, there is every reason to believe that withholding these children from their mother is neither chochmas ha’aolm nor chochmas ha’Torah; (4) since this whole affair is, regrettably, being played out in public, the result is that the father, as an Orthodox Jew who is PERCEIVED by the majority of the public (perhaps even the Orthodox public as well) to be acting without chochma, has caused a Chilul Hashem.

    That’s all I have to say.

  13. dovid says:

    “… because the father in this case is consulting his own cheering squad alone?” Prove it. How do you know he didn’t consult Daas Torah? Because he didn’t tell you, ABC News, and Good Morning America? Rabbi Adlerstein informed us above (April 14th, 2010 at 6:54 pm) that he received a heter meah rabbanan to divorce his first wife who is not in position to receive the gett, so that he can re-marry. Al pih din Torah, he could marry a second wife w/o going through the trouble of finding a way to give the gett to his first wife. Due to a takanah of Rabbeinu Gershon (born approx. 1050 yrs. ago) that is obligatory on the Ashkenezi community, a Jew cannot have two wives. This indicates to me and should indicate to you that he IS in touch with Daas Torah and wants to conduct himself in accordance with Daas Torah. This is kiddush Hashem, with or w/o your approval.

    If ABC News and Good Morning America knew about your stand on the visitation rights issue, they would cheer you. Would that be kiddush Hashem?

    Shua, I will give you my 2 penny’s worth. Keep your eyes on the ball, i.e., find out what Torah wants you to do, and do it. The rest doesn’t count.

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