Saturday, 28 February 2009

Islamic viewpoint on euthanasia

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Euthanasia is unIslamic but medical treatment involving the use of stem cells is OK. Assisted reproductive technology like surrogate mother and test tube baby is Islamic as long as the sperm and the ovum is from the legally wedded couples. It is better not to discuss human cloning as it is not "appropriate" as of now.
These are some of the decisions a group of Muslim doctors from across the country took on Sunday during a national conference on "legal and ethical issues" involved in medical practice vis-à-vis Islamic jurisprudence or Shariat. The conference was organised by the Islamic Fiqh Academy, New Delhi, and the Muslim Educational Social and Cultural Organisation, Hyderabad.
Dr Umar Hassan Kasule, internationally renowned professor of epidemiology and Islamic Medicine from Brunei, set the agenda on medical practice for Muslim physicians and clinicians in India. During the day-long session, Dr Umar Hassan dwelt at length various aspects of Islamic medicine, a terminology which is fast becoming popular in the Muslim world, and how Muslim doctors should adapt themselves to the fast changing world of medicine.
Doctors evinced keen interest in legal, medical, ethical and spiritual issues like euthanasia, assisted reproduction technology, stem cell research, organ donation and transplantation as also the Islamic code of conduct for Muslim doctors. Dr Umar Hassan explained in detail these medical issues with appropriate quotes from the Holy Quran and the Hadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) and backed by expert fatwas by Islamic scholars of repute, both present and the past.
"Use of stem cell technology to treat Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, heart and other crippling diseases is halal. Muslim jurists have ruled that the use of cultured human nerve cells obtained from abortions, spontaneous or medically induced, are permissible," Dr Umar Hassan observes.
But with regard to assisted reproduction technology like the use of donor eggs or donor sperm is unIslamic when the donor and the recipient are not legally wedded. "Lineage is a very protected aspect in Islam. Donor eggs and/or sperm upsets the foundations of lineage. This also goes for renting the womb, i.e. surrogacy. Sperm, eggs, and the womb are all a part of the process which determines lineage. Not only is the lineage of the child confused, such a child is illegitimate under Islamic shariah," he points out.
With regard to euthanasia or mercy-killing, the Muslim doctors agreed that the purpose of preserving life makes any form of active or passive euthanasia illegal. Life and good health must be protected and promoted in all circumstances. Euthanasia violates the purpose of preserving religion because it involves a human attempt to violate the divine prerogative of giving and taking away life.
However, they are of the view that a distinction in Islamic law exists between withholding life support and withdrawing it. The issue is legally easier if life support is not started at all according to a pre-set policy and criteria. Once it is started, discontinuation raises legal or ethical issues.
When a doctor sought an answer on Islamic position on human cloning, Dr Umar Hassan preferred not to dwell on the issue saying that the Islamic tradition discourages speculative thinking about hypothetical events. But the Islamic expert was of the view that cloning is not creation of new life from basic organic and non-organic matter.
Cloning as a concept goes far beyond the natural method of human sexual reproduction. If human cloning is ever achieved in practice, it will not be the first exception to human sexual reproduction. The Prophet Adam had neither a father nor a mother. The Prophet Jesus (Hazrat Isa) had a mother but no father. Asexual reproduction is common in the animal and plant kingdoms. Bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms reproduce asexually.
"The issue of quality of life arises in the case of cloning. The product of cloning will not have the same quality as we know it in humans today. This is because a human is both matter and spirit. During the first trimester of intra-uterine development the soul (Ruh or spirit) is inserted into the body by God. There is one "Ruh" for each being. Thus the cloned product can not have a "Ruh" and will therefore not be human being as we know," he said.
Muslim medical experts were of the view that the product of cloning will have all the biological properties of the ordinary human being but will not have the spiritual qualities. Thus the life of the cloned product will be of little or no quality.

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