Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Jews: Conflicts With Western Society

n very general terms, there are few conflicts between practices in modern medicine and Jewish law. Areas where issues may arise are:

  • termination of pregnancy
  • determining the moment of death
  • post-mortem
  • life support

Each of these is discussed elsewhere on this site.

However, conflicts may arise between common western social practices and Jewish law that could, if left unresolved, equally offend Jewish patients and staff. Of course, Jews vary greatly in their interpretation of Jewish law and their acceptance or condemnation of various social practices, and so this list is intended only as a guide to some of the issues that might need to be discussed with staff and/or patients.

genetic testing

Because of the matrilineal descent of Judaism throughout history (a mother passes her Jewish status to her children), and the often closed nature of Jewish societies in history, the Jewish community has been seen by some as a good population for the study of inherited genetic disorders. Indeed, in some communities in some countries, there is a higher incidence of genetic disorders such as Tay-Sachs disease in the Jewish population than in the population at large. However, there is a growing feeling among many Jewish communities that they are being used as guinea pigs and are not benefiting from the results of genetic testing.

Another issue with genetic testing arises from prenatal testing. Always a sensitive subject, prenatal testing becomes even more fraught when the Jewish rules on termination of pregnancy are taken into consideration. For instance, what happens if an ultra-Orthodox Jewish mother has a genetic scan of her baby and discovers that it will develop Tay-Sachs and probably die before its tenth birthday? There has been much debate about this sort of issue among Jewish scholars, and the situation is not always clear.

Because of these issues, and the ever-present memory of Nazi eugenic experiments carried out during the Second World War, genetic testing is a very sensitive subject for many Jewish people. Before suggesting testing to a patient, it is a good idea to consult with an expert rabbi.

kosher food

The world of fast food and mass production make it increasingly difficult for Orthodox Jews to be sure about the kosher status of hospital food. Unless patients and staff can be assured of the proper kashrut rules being followed in the kitchens, alternatives must be provided.

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