Defining and Defying Death under Israeli Law: A Comparative Perspective

Principal Investigator: Prof. Shai Lavi


Defining the end of life is not only a physiological and medical question, but also a cultural and legal one. Since the 1970s, most Western countries gradually replaced the traditional cardio-pulmonary definition of death with the modern definition of brain death. Israeli law, however, has adopted a complex regulation to the problem. The law has accepted the cardio-pulmonary definition of death for all purposes, but one. When it comes to the continuation of treatment the Israeli law leaves the power of definition in the hands of the dying and her family. Patients who reject the new cardio-pulmonary definition have the right to do so. They will be treated as if they are alive though they are medically as well as legally dead.


Objectives: The aim of the proposed project is to explore the reasons underlying the Israeli regulation and its cultural and religious context. Why do some Israelis reject the new definition of death? Why does law respect this position? Assuming the answer lies in the Jewish religious tradition and its contemporary interpretation, what, if anything, can we learn from these sources about the definition of death, and more generally, about the attitude towards death and dying? When compared to other Western countries, Israeli law seems to be unique, but how would Israeli law fare if compared to none Western countries, especially other Middle-Eastern countries?


The proposed project is composed of three stages. First, a mapping of the different ways in which death is defined across countries and across legal traditions; second, a comparison of the Israeli reservation toward the cardio-pulmonary death with similar reservations that may be found in other cultural contexts; finally, an exploration of the Israeli resolution in the broader context of the regulation of end of life in Israeli society.



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