Medical Ethics in Islam

Medical Ethics in Islam

Medical Ethics in Islam
Medical Ethics in Islam. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

In our lives, we often face difficult decisions, some relating to life and death, medical ethics. Should I donate a kidney so that another may live? Should I turn off life support for my brain-dead child? Should I mercifully end the suffering of my terminally ill, elderly mother? If I am pregnant with quintuplets, should I abort one or more so that the others have a better chance of surviving? If I face infertility, how far should I go in treatment so that I might, Allah-willing, have a child?

As medical treatment continues to expand and advance, more ethical questions come up.

For guidance on such matters, Muslims turn first to the Quran. Allah gives us general guidelines to follow, that are constant and timeless.

The Saving of Life

"...We ordained for the Children of Israel that 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 anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people...." (Quran 5:32)

Life and Death are in Allah's Hands

"Blessed be He in whose hands is the Dominion, and he has Power over all things. He who created death and life that He may test which of you are best in deed, and He is Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving." (Quran 67: 1-2)

"No soul can die except by Allah's permission." (Quran 3:185)

Human Beings Should Not "Play God"

"Does not man see that it is We who created him from sperm.

Yet behold! He stands as an open adversary! And he makes comparisons for Us, and forgets his own creation. He says who can give life to (dry) bones and decomposed ones? Say, 'He will give them life who created them for the first time, for He is versed in every kind of creation.'" (Quran 36: 77-79)

Abortion

"Kill not your children on a plea of want. We will provide sustenance for you and for them. Come not near shameful deeds whether open or secret. Take not life which God has made sacred except by way of justice and law. Thus He commands you that you may learn wisdom." (6:151)

"Kill not your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily the killing of them is a great sin." (17:31)

Other Sources of Islamic Law

In modern times, as medical treatments advance further, we come across new situations which are not described in detail in the Quran. Oftentimes these fall into a gray area, and it is not as simple to decide what is right or wrong. We then turn to the interpretation of Islamic scholars, who are well-versed in the Quran and Sunnah. If scholars come to a consensus on an issue, it is a strong indication that it is a correct position. Some examples of scholarly fatwas on the subject of medical ethics include:

  • Organ donation is permissible as long as no financial incentive is given, and no permanent harm comes to the donor.
  • Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are prohibited.
  • Mechanical life support should be continued until brain-death or imminent death has been confirmed by a physician or team of physicians, in which case it can be withdrawn. 
  • Assisted reproduction is allowed as long as it is done with sperm and egg between husband and wife.
  • Late-stage abortion is condemned unless necessary to save the mother's life.

For specific and unique situations, a patient is advised to speak to an Islamic scholar for guidance.