Amputee Files Lawsuit Against Hospital for Cremating Amputated Leg

A patient has filed a lawsuit against Skokie Hospital for incinerating his amputated leg. The patient, an Orthodox Jew whose religious traditions indicate that the dead should be buried whole, claims that he informed a rabbi employed by the hospital and other medical personnel that he wanted his leg to be preserved to be buried with him after his death.

In March 2011, Moshe Lefkowitz had surgery to have his left leg amputated below the knee. The hospital claims that Lefkowitz signed consent forms permitting the hospital to dispose of his leg. Lefkowitz said in an affidavit that he is legally blind and was told by a nurse that he was only signing a form consenting to the surgery.

Lefkowitz sued the hospital and the rabbi in 2013, seeking damages in excess of $100,000. A Cook County judge dismissed the suit, but that ruling was reversed by an appeals court, and the case was sent back for trial.

The hospital argued in an appellate brief that Lefkowitz should not be able to sue the rabbi for what it termed “clergy malpractice,” saying that the plaintiff’s religious contentions have “no place” in the civil court system. Lefkowitz claimed in court papers that he is suing the rabbi for negligence for not properly informing the hospital staff of his wishes.

In reversing the circuit court’s granting of the defendant’s motion to dismiss, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District ruled that Lefkowitz had raised at least a question of material fact as to whether he had knowingly consented to the disposal of his leg.

Rabbi Yona Reiss of the Chicago Rabbinical Council told the Chicago Tribune that under Jewish tradition, body parts that have been severed are preserved or buried for the day when it is believed that the bodies will be resurrected. Severed body parts are usually buried in private, low-key ceremonies, he said.

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