Is a Fetus Alive? (part 2)
Last week we discussed the position of Rabbi Waldenberg as recorded in his responsa, Tzitz Eliezer, that the unborn child is not considered to be alive in the eyes of the halacha. He based this opinion on the understanding of the Rambam, and particularly the relation between the words of the Rambam and those of the Mishna.
But another halachic giant held the exact opposite; Rabbi Moshe Feinstein stated that the Rambam was clearly of the opinion that the unborn child is considered to be alive. Therefore, Rabbi Feinstein wrote, the Rambam had to employ the concept of the rodef in order to permit terminating a pregnancy, even when the mother's life is in danger. Since the fetus is alive and the mother is alive and we can only save one and not the other, it is forbidden to kill one person even in order to save another. However if one is a rodef then he must be killed to save the other. Therefore, Rabbi Feinstein held that it is forbidden to terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances, even if the child is ill and even if he will not be able to live afterwards. He was of the opinion that the pregnancy should continue and the child be born even if he will die soon afterwards. Rabbi Feinstein writes that he felt a need to be strict in light of the large numbers of unwarranted abortions and that we need to take a stand and stop this wherever possible. He writes that he was shocked to see the opinion of Rabbi Waldenberg who allowed the termination of a pregnancy and he felt that one should not rely on this lenient opinion. There is still, though, a question that remains. How come the unborn child is a rodef before he is born but not after he is born, when he still endangers the mother? Rabbi Feinstein answers that while we may not have a good answer to this it still does not compromise our halachic position since we see that none of the classic commentators on the Rambam disagree or even comment. We can therefore assume that the Rambam had an answer to this question, even if we do not know what it is. [Note that Rambam's word is K'RODEIF, like a Rodeif. Not a real one, but we will consider it so. - Ed.] He does offer one possible answer; that the unborn child is alive and has a soul but not a complete soul, and when we have to decide between saving the mother or saving the fetus, we save her. However when he is born they are on the same halachic level and so we are incapable of deciding who to save and must let nature take its course. So we see that two halachic authorities of the same generation gave complete opposite psak based on the same Rambam. One allows the termination in certain cases and one does not allow it under any circumstance. In such a case a person needs to seek specific halachic guidance.
The Puah Institute for Fertility and Gynecology in Accordance with Halacha is based in Jerusalem and helps couples from all over the world who are experiencing fertility problems. Puah offers free counseling in five languages, halachic supervision, and educational programs. Puah has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. To contact the Puah Institute please call 1-800-071111 in Israel or in the US 718-336-0603. website: www.puahonline.org