Formerly called “mercy killing,” euthanasia means intentionally making someone die, rather than allowing that person to die naturally. Put bluntly, euthanasia means killing in the name of compassion.
Euthanasia is different from assisted suicide such that in euthanasia, one person does something that directly kills another. For example, a doctor gives a lethal injection to a patient. In assisted suicide, a non-suicidal person knowingly and intentionally provides the means or acts in some way to help a suicidal person kill his or herself. For example, a doctor writes a prescription for poison, or someone hooks up a face mask and tubing to a canister of carbon monoxide and then instructs the suicidal person on how to push a lever so that she’ll be gassed to death.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are widely debated today and their practice is becoming legalised increasingly in western countries. As the subject gains worldwide prominence, the Islamic position regarding the subject needs to be highlighted in view of the significance in medical ethics.
IS MY LIFE MY OWN PROPERTY?
It should be understood that humanity is not responsible for bringing itself into existence. Humanity at one stage was in a state of non-existence, and someone else caused it to exist. An impartial study of nature and the Book of nature make it evident that this being is no one else but Allah. It is Allah who is Al-Bad’ee (The one who brought everything into existence from a state of non-existence), and it is HE who is the creator of a human being, and human life is HIS property and not the property of individuals.
The material body that we have is not our own property but it is an Amanah (trust) that has been given to us. We being Ameen (trustees) of the body have to render back the trust to the One to whom it is due, and this means utilising our bodies in the manner prescribed by Him. We being human have been given the free will to chalk out a program of action for ourselves and in doing so we are individually and collectively carving out our own happiness and pain at each and every moment of existence. We are accountable for the manner in which we looked after what was entrusted to us.
The aim of every Muslim is to form Al-Jannah by his or her actions, i.e. a state of peace, and happiness and not Al-Jahanam, which is a state of misery, sorrow and pain. Suicide whether committed by one’s own hands or done so with the assistance of another person is a state of Al-Jahanam caused by aggression, depression, and pain in the life of a person and it is not allowed in the Qur’an. Suicidal thoughts occur in a person when he or she has lost all hope in life and is in extreme despair.
It is the environment that causes a person to commit suicide. The environment needs reformation and is the cause of sorrow and pain and not the ill person himself. Instead of taking life, we need to investigate the circumstances that led the person into that extreme state and think about ways of improving the environment and conditions of despair rather than terminate the individual all together. If our hand is aching, then we should not severe it from our body, but we need to investigate the cause of that pain and dedicate resources towards the tackling of the cause rather than amputation of the organ! The sanctity of human life is ordained in the Quran.
“Do not take life which Allah has made sacred.” (6:151)
“anyone who has killed a fellow human … it would be as he slew the whole of humanity” (5:32)
About suicide, the Quran is very clear:
“Do not destroy yourselves as Allah has been to you very merciful” (4:29).
Not only is suicide not permissible, but one who contemplates such is warned of a grievous punishment:
“And whoever commits that (suicide) through aggression and injustice, We shall cast him into the Fire, and that is easy for Allah.” 4:30
Taking away the life should be the domain of the One who gives life. True, there is Pain and suffering at the terminal end of an illness, but we need to explore ways of easing that pain rather than start ‘playing God’ by our self.
ARE THE WEAK AND THE ILL A FINANCIAL BURDEN ON SOCIETY?
Another argument that is put forward in defense of euthanasia and assisted suicide is that it is too costly to look after the terminally ill. What a selfish argument this is! This is totally absurd and irrational. One the one hand we have the extremely rich who waste away millions on unnecessary luxury, while on the other we have patients who are dying and are getting ‘too costly’ for society! When society has no universal principles and lives a baser life of desires only, then this is the type of mentality that it demonstrates!
There is no doubt that the financial cost of maintaining the incurably ill is a factor. However, the question is when the human organism has outlived the productive span and its maintenance becomes a financial burden on society, should it be discarded abruptly or allowed to die naturally, gradually and peacefully? To meet this objective, the society has to reshuffle its values and priorities and divert funds from those spent on alcoholism, gambling, luxuries and other such “pursuits of happiness” to providing health care for those who are ill and allowing them to live with quality and die in dignity.
Why don’t the rich release the resources that they have trapped in their banks, for medical research and healthcare? Why is it that billions are spent on gambling, boozing, and satisfaction of lust while a major portion of humanity cannot even afford to have a decent meal? People need to realize that the so called ‘educated intelligentsia’ of the world is least bothered about humanity, and their main concern is their self interest.
Mind you, a Muslim is universal in his or her outlook. To a Muslim all humanity, irrespective of race, religion, social class, gender matters. The Qur’an teaches us to provide nourishment to individuals without even asking any reward or thanks (76:8-9), so there is absolutely no question of considering the weak and the sick as a burden on society as some ‘educated and intelligent’ people in the industrialized nations do. It isn’t the weak and the ill who are a burden on society, it is those intoxicated in power, wealth, status, desire and luxury who are the real burden on humanity.
THE CAUSE, NOT THE EFFECT
A person who has suicidal thoughts is suffering from a psychological illness and is in need of help. Instead of putting such people to death or allowing them to commit suicide, the need is to improve their environment (the conflict in the family, home, any disappointments in past life etc) and help them in the alleviation of their pain and sorrow by medical means and counseling rather than put them to death. If a person willingly wants to commit suicide then his or her judgment is impaired, and should not be acted upon. This is a notion that is widely accepted by Psychiatrists the world over. Such people need medical and psychiatric help and should be educated about the purpose of life.
No ideology or creed gives the true purpose of life to humanity other than Islam.
Shahid Athar M.D., F.A.C.E. Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine & Chair, Islamic Medical Association, Medical Ethics Committee.
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