Life Support and Euthanasia in Islam

Stethoscope
A stethoscope in a General Practitioners surgery London, 2014. Carl Court/Getty Images

Islam teaches that the control of life and death is in Allah's hands, and cannot be manipulated by human beings. Life itself is sacred, and it is therefore forbidden to end life deliberately, either through homicide or suicide. To do so would be to reject faith in Allah's divine decree. Allah determines how long each person will live. The Quran says:

"Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: for verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful!" (Quran 4:29)

"...if any one slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people." (Quran 5:23)

"...take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus He does command you, that you may learn wisdom." (Quran 6:151)

Medical Intervention

Muslims do believe in medical treatment. In fact, many scholars consider it mandatory in Islam to seek medical help for illness, according to two sayings of the Prophet Muhammad:

"Seek treatment, believers of Allah, for Allah has made a cure to every illness." 

and

"Your body has a right over you."

Muslims are encouraged to search the natural world for remedies and use scientific knowledge to develop new medicines. However, when a patient has reached terminal stage, when treatment holds no promise of a cure, it is not required to sustain excessive life-saving remedies. 

Life Support

When it is clear that there is no treatment left available to cure a terminal patient, Islam advises only the continuation of basic care such as food and drink.  It is not considered homicide to withdraw other treatments in order to allow the patient to die naturally.

If a patient is declared brain-dead by doctors, including situations in which there is no activity in the brain stem, the patient is considered dead and no artificial support functions need to be provided.

Ceasing such care is not considered homicide if the patient is already clinically dead.

Euthanasia

All Islamic scholars, in all schools of Islamic jurisprudence, regard active euthanasia as forbidden (haram). Allah determines the timing of death, and we should not seek or attempt to hasten it.

Euthanasia is meant to relieve the pain and suffering of a terminally-ill patient.

But as Muslims, we are never to fall into despair about Allah's mercy and wisdom. The Prophet Muhammad once told this story:

"Among the nations before you there was a man who got wounded, and growing impatient (with pain), he took a knife and cut his hand with it. The blood did not stop until he died. Allah (Exalted be He) said, 'My slave hastened to bring about his demise; I have forbidden Paradise to him'" (Bukhari and Muslim).

Patience

When a person is suffering from unbearable pain, a Muslim is advised to remember that Allah tests us with pain and suffering in this life, and we must patiently persevere. The Prophet Muhammad advised us to make this du'a on such occasions: "Oh Allah, make me live as long as life is better for me, and make me die if death is better for me" (Bukhari and Muslim). Wishing for death simply to alleviate suffering is against the teachings of Islam, as it challenges Allah's wisdom and we must be patient with what Allah has written for us. The Quran says:

"...bear with patient constancy whatever befalls you" (Quran 31:17).

"...those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!" (Quran 39:10).

That said, Muslims are advised to comfort those who are suffering and make use of palliative care.