Are Clinical Trials on Human Subjects Allowed in Islam?

17 September, 2020
Q With the modern advances and technological breakthroughs in biomedicine, scientific experiments involving human subjects had increased. Is it lawful in the viewpoint of Islam to use human subjects in modern clinical trials in order to discover treatments for diseases for the benefit of mankind?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.


In this fatwa:

Muslim scholars state that there is nothing wrong with using human subjects in modern clinical trials if they meet the conditions and ethical guidelines:

1- The findings of the medical research in question should be of concrete progress to medical knowledge.

2- The hypothesis of the medical research cannot be proved by making experiments on animals.

3- The researchers should get the required findings by making experiments on the fewest number of people. Also the subjects used should be exposed to the least amount of harm possible during the experiments in question.

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4- The researchers who conduct the experiments are of such experience and qualifications that enable them to protect the subjects against any possible harm.

5- We should the human subjects beforehand about the purpose of the experiment to be made upon them and of the consequences and any possible dangers.

6- We should take all the necessary precautions to observe the privacy of the subjects and that we should not use these findings against the subjects in the research in question.

7- The outline and purpose of the research are submitted to ethics committees in the universities, institutes, or academies concerned and are ethically and scientifically approved of by these committees.


In responding to your question, Dr. Muhammad Ra’fat `Uthman, Former dean of the Faculty of Shari`ah at Al-Azhar University and a member of Al-Azhar Research Academy, states;

The rulings of the Islamic Shariah are all for the benefit of man both in this world and in the Hereafter. In order to achieve this benefit, the Shariah aims at preserving three general things referred to by scholars as necessities, needs, and improvements of life.

Necessities of Life

Imam Ash-Shatibi defined necessities of life as “the things that are indispensable for fulfilling the religious and worldly interests. In other words, should one of these necessities be missing, one’s life in this world would be corrupted and in the Hereafter, one would be a loser and deprived of the blessings of Paradise.”

Imam Ash-Shatibi then mentioned that there are five necessities of this kind: preserving one’s religion, life, lineage, intellect, and property.

Needs of Life

According to Imam Ash-Shatibi, needs of life are such things that man may do without, yet this would cause him great hardship and difficulty. Examples of this are the dispensations Islam gives to Muslims to break their fast in Ramadan when they are sick or traveling so as to spare them the hardship involved therein if they kept fasting.

Improvements of Life

Improvements of life, as defined by Ash-Shatibi, are such things pertaining to adopting good behavior and avoiding base manners. In a word, they refer to good morals such as prohibiting insulting people, fraud, and women’s going out with full makeup and adornment that may arouse the instincts of men.

As for the question in hand, the above lines show that preserving life is one of the necessities of life. Also it is quite well known that seeking medical treatment is an indispensable means in this regard.

Seeking Medical Treatment

In Islam, man should not leave himself a prey to disease without taking the possible measures in seeking treatment.

Usamah ibn Sharik narrated:

I came to the Prophet (PBUH) and his Companions were sitting as if they had birds on their heads. I saluted and sat down. The desert Arabs then came from here and there. They asked: Messenger of Allah, should we make use of medical treatment? He replied; “Make use of medical treatment. Allah has not made a disease without appointing a remedy for it, with the exception of one disease, namely old age.” (Abu Dawud)

Hence, the Shariah requires us to seek to discover treatments for all diseases. It is an undeniable fact in this regard that in order to discover the effectiveness of a certain medicine, it should first be tested on human subjects. We can conclude from this that making experiments on human beings is permissible so long as it is for the good of man and helps in preserving his life and improving his health. But there are certain Shariah ethics and guidelines that we should observe in this regard.

Shariah Restrictions on Clinical Trials Using Human Beings

International conferences and symposiums and many scientific and juristic researches discussed the issue of using human subjects and offered solutions in this regard. As a result, they issued certain restrictions from the viewpoint of Shariah on making medical experiments on human subjects as follows:

1- The findings of the medical research in question should be of concrete progress to medical knowledge.

2- The hypothesis of the medical research cannot be proved by making experiments on animals.

3- The researchers should get the required findings by making experiments on the fewest number of people and the subjects used should be exposed to the least amount of harm possible during the experiments in question.

4- The researchers who conduct the experiments are of such experience and qualifications that enable them to protect the subjects against any possible harm.

5- The subjects are informed beforehand of the purpose of the experiment to be made upon them and of the consequences and any possible dangers.

6- All the necessary precautions are to be taken to observe the privacy of the subjects and that these findings will not be used against the subjects in the research in question.

7- The outline and purpose of the research are submitted to ethics committees in the universities, institutes, or academies concerned and are ethically and scientifically approved of by these committees.

In conclusion, using human beings as subjects in medical experiments is permissible on condition that the above restrictions are abided by.

Almighty Allah knows best.


Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.