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Medicine and halacha

Two CT men take part in Yeshiva U conference on medical dilemmas and the Holocaust 

By Cindy Mindell

Isaac Dreyfus

Yeshiva University’s (YU) Student Medical Ethics Society (MES) hosts its seventh annual conference, “Out of the Ashes: Jewish Approaches to Medical Dilemmas Born out of the Holocaust,” on Sunday, Oct. 21.
The conference will explore the contemporary relevance and halachic significance of ethical challenges that arose during the Holocaust, as well as issues that surfaced later as products of the Holocaust.
MES, a student-run organization developed by and under the guidance of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), was founded in 2005 to promote education and awareness of medical ethics on campus. Since then, it has grown from a small student group into a major campus organization that organizes large-scale events and educational programming with university-wide participation. Previous MES conferences have dealt with organ donation, fertility, modern genetics, and Jewish approaches to complex mental health issues.
YU pre-med major and West Hartford native Chanokh Tyler Berenson is a facilities coordinator on the MES board. He developed an interest in medical halacha while on a year-long study program at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel, after graduating from Hebrew High of New England in West Hartford.
Last year, Berenson served as volunteer coordinator for the YU men’s campus. “We gather a great group of volunteers every single year,” he says. “I am very lucky to be around so many students here who are interested in the interface of science, ethics, and Jewish law.”
Waterbury resident Isaac Dreyfus says he was impressed by MES’s “important and informative events” last year when he first came to campus. Now a sophomore, the biology major is MES treasurer, and is helping to organize a late-November event on the ethics of healthcare.
MES conceived the topic for the Oct. 21 conference over the summer, when the co-presidents discussed ideas with mentor Rabbi Dr. Edward Reichman, associate professor of emergency medicine at YU’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and conference chairman.

Chanokh Berenson

Board members fleshed out the content and chose a name. “Everyone wanted to be incredibly respectful towards this extremely sensitive topic,” Berenson says. Dr. Michael A. Grodin, a professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Project on Medicine and the Holocaust at the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, will open the conference with a keynote address on the impact of the Nazi regime’s “Final Solution” campaign on contemporary medicine and bioethics.
Presenters will also discuss genetic research, forced sterilization, end-of-life decisions, psychological impact of the Holocaust on second- and third-generation survivors, the Jewish attitude on the value of life through the lens of the mentally disabled, and the usage of Nazi data.
A highlight of the conference will be a plenary session on human experimentation featuring Irene Hizme, a retired biochemist and a surviving member of the group of Jewish twins handpicked by Nazi physician Josef Mengele at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp for his infamous medical experiments.
“As a survivor and a medical professional, Irene has the unique insights of one who was abused by medicine but chose to honor its ethics later in life,” says MES co-president Yosefa Schoor, a junior at Stern College for Women. “Irene’s involvement is one of the most important elements of our conference – a survivor of the horrors of the Holocaust and a veteran medical researcher speaking to the next generation of medical professionals, relaying a unique understanding of the imperative necessity for ethics across all medical disciplines.”
“I love YU MES because every year we run amazing programs that resonate with people intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually,” says Berenson. “We cannot approach medical ethical issues with the dryness that, sadly, often characterizes religious laws. The Holocaust is a reminder that, no matter how advanced our science becomes, we must still remember that we are all created in God’s image. There are black lines that humanity must never cross, even in the name of science and the progressive zeitgeist.”
“Out of the Ashes: Jewish Approaches to Medical Dilemmas Born out of the Holocaust:” Sunday, Oct. 21, 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Yeshiva University Wilf Campus, 500 West 185th St., New York, N.Y.; Open to the public; pre-event registration is required. Info/registration: www.yumedicalethics.com / yumedicalethics@gmail.com. All of the speeches may be accessed the day after the event by visiting http://www.yutorah.org/search/ and searching for MES.

Comments? Email cindym@jewishledger.com.

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