On the right to live or die, we often ask ourselves if we are prolonging our loved one’s life or are we prolonging their dying process?
Who should decide to pull the plug off the ventilator, stopping life support to the patient?
Should the patient’s relatives decide under the pressure of financial burden or would it be blamed as mercy killing? All this gives rise to a constant state of guilt to the decision maker.
Hence, it becomes necessary for us to understand the definition of death that is acceptable to both medicine and Islam.
New questions of medical ethics have arisen with the advent of newer life support technologies for terminal patients.
Physicians and families should realize the limitations of medical technology and should not attempt heroic measures for terminally ill patients in a persistent vegetative state.
Life support is a term applied to medical equipment that assists or replaces important bodily functions and thus enables a patient to live when they otherwise might not have survived.
The commonly used life support measures are artificial nutrition and hydration, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation and kidney dialysis. But these all come with risks.
The patient-doctor relationship is an important bond. Patients and their families place their trust in doctors. The decisions a doctor takes are usually a reflection of their views on disease.
A doctor can declare a patient dead if brain death occurs because it is the brain that controls breathing. When the brain is dead, tissues that are still alive in a person’s body will die the minute you turn off the mechanical ventilator.
It isn’t advisable to keep a person’s organs and tissues alive when there is no chance of their brain recovering its functions.
Even most Muslim authorities agree that brain death constitutes acceptable grounds for discontinuing life support.
The guiding principle in Islamic medical ethics is saving life. Muslim physicians aren’t encouraged to artificially prolong misery by keeping patients in a vegetative state. The role of doctors is to help alleviate suffering.
Allah says in the Qur’an, “And whoever saves one [soul] – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” (Surat Al-Ma’idah 5:32).
The Prophet Mohammed said, “Seek treatment, for every illness God created a treatment”.
Muslims believe that for every disease there is a cure, as stated by the Prophet. They also believe in accepting hardship, suffering or illness and to be patient, as it takes all previous sins away (purification). However, we should also try to avoid illness and to use the best treatment or the most effective analgesic.
Palliative care is recommended in Islam. Life is a precious gift bestowed by Allah. We should live our lives to the fullest in the service of Allah.
Allah initiates human life from conception and only He can end it through death. Since we didn’t create our life, nor are we the owners of it.
Allah has granted human beings the powers of speech and analysis, which set us apart from all the other creatures in the world. All lives should be respected, whether they are an unborn child, a born child or a person who is old, sick or disabled.
- Medical ethics and Islam: principles and practice A R Gatrad, A Sheikh, Jan 2001.
- Most physicians in Asia ‘withhold life-sustaining treatment for terminally ill patients’ 14 January 2015.
- Life Support Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed. | 2006 | Berniker, Isaac.
- The Islamic Concept of Life. Abul Ala Maududi.