A Survey of Multidenominational Rabbis on Death by Neurologic Criteria

  • Ariane LewisEmail author
Ethical Matters



(1) Determine the pervasiveness of the belief that brain death/death by neurologic criteria (BD/DNC) is not death among rabbis. (2) Examine rabbinic beliefs about management after BD/DNC.


An electronic anonymous survey about BD/DNC determination and management after BD/DNC was created and distributed to members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Rabbinic leadership organization), the Rabbinic Council of America (an Orthodox organization), the Rabbinic Assembly (a Conservative organization), and the Reconstructionist Rabbinic Association.


Ninety-nine rabbis (40 Reform, 32 Orthodox, 22 Conservative, and 5 Reconstructionist) completed the survey. Awareness of the requirements for BD/DNC was poor (median of 33% of the requirements correctly identified [interquartile range of 22–66%]), but 81% of rabbis knew that absence of heartbeat is not required for BD/DNC. Although only 5% of all rabbis believed a person who is brain dead could recover, 22% did not believe BD/DNC is death, and 18% believed mechanical ventilation should be continued after BD/DNC. There was a significant relationship between denomination and belief that: (1) a person who is brain dead can recover (p = 0.04); (2) a person who is brain dead is dead (p < 0.001); (3) mechanical ventilation should be continued after BD/DNC (p < 0.001); (4) hydration should be continued after BD/DNC (p = 0.002); (5) nutrition should be continued after BD/DNC (p < 0.001); (6) medications to support blood pressure should be continued after BD/DNC (p < 0.001); and (7) cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be performed when a brain dead person’s heart stops (p = 0.006).


Rabbinic knowledge about the intricacies of BD determination is poor. Rabbinic perspectives on management after BD/DNC vary. These empirical data on rabbinic perspectives about BD/DNC may be helpful when considering accommodation of religious objections to BD/DNC.


Brain death Death Jewish Rabbi Religion 



The author would like to thank (1) Rabbi Steve Goodman for his help designing this survey, (2) Rabbis Mark Dratch, Linda Henry Goodman, Leonard Sharzer, and Elyse Wechterman for distributing this survey, and (3) all of the rabbis who completed this survey.

Author contributions

AL was responsible for conception and design, analysis, and interpretation of data, drafting the manuscript, statistical analysis, and final approval of the manuscript.

Source of support


Conflicts of Interest

Ariane Lewis has no disclosures or conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval/Informed Consent



Ariane Lewis takes responsibility for the data and accuracy of data analysis.

Supplementary material

12028_2019_742_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (38 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 37 kb)
12028_2019_742_MOESM2_ESM.docx (16 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 16 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature and Neurocritical Care Society 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Neurocritical Care, Departments of Neurology and NeurosurgeryNYU Langone Medical CenterNew YorkUSA

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