Rohr Jewish Learning Institute tackling medical dilemmas

Posted Sunday, Oct 27th, 2013
Calgary Herald

Wide range of ethical questions explored

CALGARY — Calgary’s Rohr Jewish Learning Institute is tackling some interesting and challenging topics in the next few weeks.

In Life in the Balance: A Jewish Perspective to Everyday Medical Dilemmas, participants in a new course will ponder ethical questions ranging from end of life issues to preventive measures and respect due to the body after death.

Questions include: Must we prolong life at the expense of immense suffering? Should we legalize compensation for organs to save the lives of those on the transplant list? And where do we draw the line between keen vigilance to safeguard one’s health and pointless panic? The course will also explore ethical ramifications of fascinating new technologies such as digital autopsies, and uterine transplants.

“These important issues are critical to so many people’s lives yet they are rarely discussed nowadays,” says Rabbi Mordechai Groner, JLI instructor in Calgary. “This is a unique opportunity that will benefit the wider community, and we invite everyone to attend.”

Groner will conduct the six-course sessions at Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, #28 523 Woodpark Blvd S.W. The evening course begins 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday October 29 while the morning course begins 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday October 30.

“Nowadays, at some point or another, everyone faces an extremely difficult medical decision that they aren’t equipped to handle,” says Rabbi Zalman Abraham of JLI’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. “Our objective with this course is to acquaint the public with fascinating Jewish perspectives on some of the most cutting-edge dilemmas in medical ethics.”

The course is designed to appeal to people at all levels of Jewish knowledge, including those without any prior experience or background in Jewish learning. The course is accredited to offer AMA PRA Category 1 CME credits for medical professionals, and AGD PACE credits for dentists.

All JLI courses are open to the public, and attendees need not be affiliated with a particular synagogue, temple, or other house of worship.

Interested students can call 403-238-4880, e-mail [email protected], or visit for registration and other course-related information.

JLI courses are presented in Calgary in conjunction with Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta.

Meanwhile, JLI is also offering a free class on how Jewish law views another modern-day medical dilemma — the risk of carrying the BRCA gene mutations that cause breast and ovarian cancer is 10 times greater among Jewish Ashkenazi women than the general population and there are growing concerns over what preventive measures Jewish women should take.

The class, offered on two occasions, Tuesday October 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday October 30 at 9:30 a.m., will explore the biblical requirement to safeguard one’s health and whether it obligates Ashkenazi Jews to test for BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations, and even more importantly, whether Jewish law requires women to undergo radical mastectomies or oophorectomies if they test positive in order to save their lives.

Entitled “An Ounce of Prevention: BRCA, Genetic Testing, and Preventive Measures,” the class is being co-sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation in honour of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month offered by JLI in 362 communities. It is the first class in the Life in the Balance six-week course.

JLI says one in 40 Ashkenazi Jewish women carry the BRCA gene mutations compared to about one in 400 in the general population. And if a woman carries the mutation, there is a 50 to 80 per cent risk she will develop breast cancer over her lifetime, starting as early as her 20s, and a 20 to 40 per cent risk she will develop ovarian cancer as early as her 30s.

“Statistics like these are leaving women in the Jewish community with some tough decisions to make,” says Groner. “Some are reluctant to get tested, worried about the medical and financial repercussions and the prospect of facing radical surgeries that could affect their self-image or ability to have children. Having to face decisions of such complexity has led many women to avoid addressing the issue altogether. But with mortality rates so high, this is hardly a problem the Jewish community can afford to ignore.

“Some 1,500 years ago, when rabbinic scholars wrote the Talmud, they didn’t have questions about screening for cancer genes that we have today. However, there are guiding principles found in the Talmud that can help us determine how to respond to these very perplexing and life-altering medical quandaries. One of the Talmud’s most important lessons which must guide our response is that saving one life is like saving the entire world.”

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