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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Vayechi -The Rosh Yeshiva Responds – May Medical Procedures be Performed on a Corpse?

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on December 27, 2023)
Topics: Rosh Yeshiva Responds, Sefer Breishit, Torah, Vayechi

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וַיְצַו יוֹסֵף אֶת עֲבָדָיו אֶת הָרֹפְאִים לַחֲנֹט אֶת אָבִיו וַיַּחַנְטוּ הָרֹפְאִים אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל:

“And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.” (Breishit 50:2)

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QUESTION-New York, NY

A soon-to-be practical question: New York State requires that when hospital patients die with COVID-19 or influenza as a cause of death, the hospital must provide documentation of a nasopharyngeal swab from within the previous 14 days. If no qualifying test took place and there isn’t a swab collected before the patient died that can have additional testing done, the clinical team is instructed to swab the body. Am I remembering correctly that this presents a halakhic problem? Should the family prevent this if they are able?

ANSWER

While there is a general halakhic concern of nivul ha’met, disgraceful treatment or desecration of the body, this would not apply here, as we are dealing with routine procedures regularly done to people when they are alive. Rav Moshe Feinstein, in dealing with a similar case, permits the drawing of fluid or blood from a dead body if it is necessary to make a determination about their illness. He writes:

It appears in my opinion that if they do not cut one of the limbs and do not remove any part of the neck or belly, just that they want to insert a needle to take some fluid from it in order to determine certain matters relating to the illness, this is not to be considered a desecration of the body. Because this is done frequently in our days even to the living, one can certainly be lenient. So too to remove a little blood and the like by a needle is also not a desecration and is permitted. Even if I have not found it explicitly it appears to me to be clear.

A postmortem nasal swab would be no different and is totally permissible.