Judaism professor speaks out on bioethics


University of Judaism professor Elliot Dorff spoke to a full group at the University Student Union’s Flintridge Room on Tuesday morning about bioethics in the new technological era, and the way Judaism values and morals dictate medical ethics.

Jewish studies professor Jody Myers introduced Dorff, saying that after writing more than 150 articles and 12 books, he is well-known in the field of bioethics.

Dorff first gave a lengthy introduction to the topic, explaining that religion plays a large part in medical ethics.

He said the portion “lig” in the world “religion” is crucial in its original meaning of “to connect.”

“What religions do is they give you a picture of how you’re connected to the members of your family, the members of the community, the environment,” Dorff said. “Each of the various religions gives you a picture of who you are and who you want to be.”

He said that the subjects of religion, medicine, philosophy and ethics tie in to each other, relationships that he explores in his research.

“When we talk of secular medical ethics in America, we’re talking about western liberal philosophy,” he explained. “From a western liberal perspective, I’m an individual with rights.”

He said that this plays into “the real issue is, ‘How do you know what the patient wants?'”

He said that making a distinction between perspectives is important in the relationship between medicine and ethics, an idea he later delved into by exploring the ethics behind both Judaism and Catholicism.

“When you are talking about religious ideas (and) medical ethics, you have to determine the perspective,” he said.

He also said that in researching bioethics, it is important to note the monumental changes in the field of medicine in the last century or so, including advances in antibiotics, public health and more in-depth surgeries.

He said that Judaism operates under some principles. The main one is that, in essence, the body belongs to God. As he said, there are three creators: one’s parents, and God. He said that God owns the body in life and death, though “during your lease on life, you’ve got free use of your body.”

As the individual’s body belongs to God, he or she cannot commit suicide or abuse alcohol and drugs. Dorff said that they can drink in moderation, though.

On the Catholic side, Dorff said that the religion’s ideal is “one who suppresses the body in order to cultivate the soul.”

Dorff said that from a bioethics standpoint, the Catholic Church opposes both abortion and artificial birth control.

He stressed the idea that doctors must think of the patient as a person. He said that less than 50 percent of what doctors suggest or prescribe to patients is actually followed, which emphasized his idea that the “doctor really must know the patient as a person.”