Islamic Jurisprudence and the End of Human Life
Ebrahim, Abul Fadl Mohsin
Medicine and Law: World Association for Medical Law 1998; 17(2): 189-196
Death is an inevitable reality but the causes leading to death may vary from individual to individual. In the past, death was considered to be a simple and straightforward phenomenon. The general practitioner would issue the death certificate once he was convinced that there was cessation or absence of spontaneous life in the patient. This meant that the patient had stopped breathing, his heart had stopped beating, there was unresponsiveness, his body had turned cold and finally rigor mortis had set in. With the successful accomplishment of heart transplants, it became obvious that a process of rethinking on how death could be determined had to be instituted. Cessation of heartbeat is no longer considered evidence of death since the heart is now able to be substituted with that of a just- deceased donor or with that of a baboon or even with a mechanical one. Moreover, modern biomedical innovations like the resuscitator and cardiac pacemaker have made it imperative to establish a set of criteria by which the moment of death could be identified. Diagnosis of brainstem death is relevant to the issue of retrieving viable vital organs, i.e. heart, lung, liver and kidney, for transplantation purposes. The Holy Qur'an emphasizes the universality of death and from its teachings one gathers that the moment of death would be at the time when the soul is separated from the body. However, one has to concede that the Qur'an does not in any way tell us anything about the nature of the soul nor of its location in the human body, hence the dilemma of Muslims insofar as brain death is concerned. In this paper, an attempt is made to analyse the deliberations of the classical and contemporary Muslim scholars on the end of human life with the aim of determining whether brain stem death could in effect be regarded by Muslims as the end of human life and if not why?