Following last week's precedent-setting MRI on a corpse, the way may be paved towards a historic solution to the decades-old dispute between the hareidi sector and the government on autopsies.

The precedent occurred under tragic circumstances.  Tziona Samin, 62, the wife of a prominent rabbi in Ashkelon, was found last Wednesday choked to death in her home in the course of a violent robbery.  Though the rope around her neck was clear proof of the cause of death, the police immediately demanded an autopsy to determine the cause of death.  This is their general practice, and legal right, in any murder case, in order to prevent future suspects in the case from claiming that it was not proven that the victim had died of violence.

Family Demands Redress from Court

The bereaved husband is the rabbi of the Yemenite Jewish community in Ashkelon, and he and his family, in keeping with Halakhah (Jewish Law), insisted that an autopsy was not necessary. Represented by a lawyer for the Zaka Emergency Medical Organization, the family asserted in a petition to the Be'er Sheva Magistrates Court that an autopsy was an "abuse of the dead, in clear violation of Jewish Law," that the cause of death was obvious, and that it [the family] refused to allow an autopsy.

The police and Southern District Prosecutor Yiska Leibowitz (daughter of the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz), insisted, however, that an autopsy was necessary - and Judge Dina Cohen ruled in their favor.

Angry Protests

The ruling resulted in immediate protest rallies, trash-bin burnings and road-blockings in several places around the country by hundreds of hareidi Jews, who have fought the State for years on this matter.  Their struggle was successful in 1977, when the current law was passed, disallowing automatic autopsies against the family's wishes.  However, the case at hand, in which the court ruled in favor of the police and in defiance of the wishes of the family, aroused passions once again.

Compromise Proposal: MRI Instead of Autopsy

Meanwhile, Zaka appealed to the Supreme Court - and Zaka Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav proposed a compromise: A non-invasive MRI procedure to determine the cause of death, in place of the customary invasive autopsy.  MRI (short for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is an imaging technique that uses a powerful magnetic field to align the nuclear magnetization of hydrogen atoms in the body and produce an accurate X-ray-like image.

The idea led to a succession of phone calls: Religious Affairs Minister Yaakov Cohen (Shas) said it was a good concept, but that it needed the permission of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima).  Dichter said it required the consent of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who in turn said he would agree only if Prof. Yehuda Hiss of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute would be present for the MRI.  Finally, Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital in Jerusalem - one of the few hospitals in Israel with MRI facilities - was called, and agreed to perform the non-invasive, post-mortem test.

Hiss Insists on Autopsy - But is Turned Down

The MRI, as predicted, found bleeding in the neck area, and no other internal injuries or problems. Though this finding could have been expected to end the case, Prof. Hiss then told the Court that he wished an autopsy in any event, in order to "prove" that the MRI was accurate.  The Prosecution agreed - but the Supreme Court did not, and ordered the body released for burial at once.

Thus it was that early Friday morning, a funeral procession set out from Ashkelon to Jerusalem, and Rabbanit Samin was buried in Har HaMenuchot Cemetery on the western outskirts of the capital.

Zaka: This is the Solution

Might this not mark the solution for all autopsy problems?  Could not the MRI exam replace all autopsies in the future, thus obviating any clash between religious concerns and the State's law enforcement needs?  Meshi-Zahav says he has been trying for two years to institute this norm, and that last week's precedent should give the idea a large push.

"Prof. Hiss told me himself," Meshi-Zahav said to Arutz-7, "that any country without an MRI machine for autopsies is crazy.  However, he said that in order to make sure that it works, he first needs to compare the results of 100 MRI results with regular autopsies.  One of the rabbis told him that this was absurd; must we sacrifice 100 pure Jewish corpses on the altar of his academic needs?  And now, thank G-d, the Supreme Court has ruled in our favor, that an MRI alone is sufficient."

Two-Year Struggle

Meshi-Zahav said that in Switzerland and England, MRI autopsies are the norm.  He has been toiling for nearly two years to have Israel acquire another MRI machine to be used exclusively for autopsies: "You can't imagine how much bureacracy is involved.  Even if a hospital wishes to purchase an MRI on its own, it still requires the approval of the Health and Finance Ministers.  It's a question of where it will be located, and who will be responsible, and what it will be used for, etc."

"Finally," Meshi-Zahav said, "four months ago, the Health Minister signed his approval of a resolution by the Knesset Welfare Committee for five new MRI's, plus one more dedicated just for autopsies - but we are still waiting for Finance Minister Roni Bar-On to sign.  We expect this to happen very soon, and I foresee that within a few months, we will have an MRI for autopsies - putting an end to invasive and abusive autopsies and maintaining the honor of the dead."

This vision might possibly have to wait for the technology to improve, however.  Minus the dynamic bloodstream of a live body, an MRI image of a corpse is of lesser quality, and government authorities might still require autopsies in some cases.

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