Linguistically speaking, euthanasia refers to ‘merciful death or killing’. In scientific terminology, it means ‘facilitating the death of an incurable patient at his own pressing request presented to the treating physician.’
Indeed, facilitating death by withdrawing artificial resuscitating apparatus from the patient who is clinically regarded as “dead” due to brain damage is a permissible act if the role of the treating patient is restricted to stopping the treatment instruments only. Indeed, there are different types of euthanasia and each type has its own detailed description and rulings.
To know more about the different types of euthanasia and the Islamic rulings regarding each type, we would like to cite for you the following Fatwa issued by the European Council for Fatwa and Research:
The Council surveyed the studies presented to it regarding euthanasia and after discussing them it arrived at the following conclusions:
First: the definition of euthanasia
The word (euthanasia) is originally a Greek word and it consists of two components: the prefix ‘eu’ which means ‘good, nice, merciful, or facilitated’, and the suffix ‘tathanos’ which means death or killing. Therefore, the word ‘euthanasia’ linguistically means ‘merciful death or killing’ or ‘good’ or facilitated death’.
In the terminology of modern science the word ‘euthanasia’ means “facilitating the death of an incurable patient at his own pressing request presented to the treating physician.”
Second: The various types of euthanasia
Euthanasia comes in a number of different means:
1. Direct or deliberate euthanasia:
this is done through giving the patient a lethal dose of curare or barbiturates or other derivatives of cyanide with the intention of killing. This has three cases:
a. The voluntary case, when the process is carried out at the pressing request of the patient who desires to die while he is fully conscious, or according to an already written testament.
b. The involuntary case, which is the case of a sane unconscious adult patient. The action to end his life is taken on the decision of the physician who thinks that killing him is for his or her own good, or according to the decision of the patient’s guardian or relatives who think that killing is in his or her best interests.
c. In the involuntary case where the patient is incapable of reasoning, whether a child or insane, the action is taken according to a decision made by the treating physician.
2. Assisted suicide:
In this case the patient ends his (or her) life by himself according to instructions given to him by another person that provides him with the information and devices that help him to die.
3. Indirect euthanasia:
This is done through giving the patient doses of tranquilizers or sedatives to abate the severe pain. With time the doctor will have to increase the doses to control the pain. It is a procedure preferred by therapists, but large doses may lead to difficulties in breathing and dysfunction of the cardiac muscle, which will result in death that was intended though anticipated beforehand.
4. Passive euthanasia
This is achieved by refusing to treat the patient or interrupting the treatment necessary for his survival, including the removal of the apparatus of artificial breathing from the patient in the resuscitating room when it is confirmed that his (or her) brain is dead and there is no hope of restoring his consciousness.
Third: The legal aspect of euthanasia:
Although the common medical traditions in the countries of the world and the majority of physicians still reject and strongly abhor the practice of euthanasia, and although the valid laws in most countries of the world consider the killing of a human in any way a crime punishable by law, euthanasia is being increasingly practiced in a number of European countries under the guise of misleading names that make authorities overlook it or make the courts refuse to apply the legal penalties against those who commit it. These events have almost become a daily practice in countries like Holland so much so that euthanasia has become something legalized by Dutch authorities.
Fourth: The justification offered by supporters of euthanasia
It seems that the practitioners of euthanasia depend on certain justifications, such as:
– The irreligious philosophy prevalent in the West, which measures the value of life by one’s contributions of production and creativity in and towards society. If one becomes dependant on others, it seems that it is better that one dies.
– Euthanasia would relieve the patient and free him from the suffering, agony, and pains that he cannot endure.
– Euthanasia would reduce the suffering of the patient’s relatives and friends who take care of him or her, and it would also spare the costs and economic burdens the family or the society bear. Besides, the advocates of euthanasia see that the patient has a personal right to decide his or her fate and has the right to be killed if he or she so desire.
Having considered the different legal stances Western countries take concerning euthanasia, both in approval or rejection, the Council decided the following:
1. The prohibition of direct active euthanasia and the prohibition of suicide and assisting in bringing it about, for according to the Sharia killing a patient suffering from a terminal illness is not permissible for the physician, the patient’s family, or the patient himself. The patient, whatever his illness, and however sick he (or she) is, shall not be killed because of desperation and loss of hope in recovery or to prevent the transfer of the patient’s disease to others, and whoever commits the act of killing will be a deliberate killer. The Qur’an confirms without a shadow of a doubt that homicide is absolutely forbidden, as Allah Almighty says: (And take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except by way of justice and law.) (Al-An`am 6: 151)
He Almighty also says,(Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he killed all mankind.) (Al-Ma`idah 5: 32)
2. It is unlawful for the patient to kill himself (or herself) and it is unlawful for somebody else to kill him (or her) even if he is given leave to kill him. The former case will be suicide and the latter will be aggression against the other by killing him, for his permission does not render the unlawful act lawful. The patient does not posses his own soul to permit somebody else to take it. The Prophetic hadith is known regarding the prohibition of suicide in general. The person who commits suicide will be tortured in the Hellfire in the same way he (or she) killed himself. If he believes that suicide is lawful, he will be a disbeliever and will abide in the Hellfire forever; otherwise, he will be severely punished.
3. It is impermissible to kill the patient for fear that his (or her) disease may transfer through contagious infection, even if he is terminally sick (such as one suffering from AIDS). It is not permissible to kill him to prevent the spread of the disease, for there are many other means to do so, such as quarantine. On the contrary, the patient must be protected as a human being and be provided with the required food and medicine till his or her life comes to its natural end.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “Allah created no disease but created something to cure it.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
In another hadith narrated by al-Tirmidhi we read:
“O Allah’s Servants! Seek treatment, for Allah does not create a disease but creates a treatment for it.” In the hadith narrated by Ahmad we read: “Allah created no disease but created something to cure it. Some may know it and some may not.” So these Prophetic hadiths give us hope of discovering cures for what we term today as ‘incurable’ diseases.
Indeed, we have witnessed the discovery of cures for what people considered at one time incurable diseases. Therefore, it is impermissible to kill the carrier of the disease because it is incurable, nor on the pretext of protecting the healthy people from it.
4. As for facilitating death by withdrawing artificial resuscitating apparatus from the patient who is clinically regarded as “dead” or “practically dead” because of the damage to the brainstem or brain, with which human beings live and feel; if the action of the physician is merely stopping the treatment instruments, it will be no more than giving up the treatment, in which case his action is legal and permissible, bearing in mind that these instruments can preserve the apparent life of the patient – represented by breathing and circulation – though the patient is actually dead, for he cannot conceive, feel or be sensitive to anything because of the damage of the source of all that, namely the brain. Keeping the patient in that state would waste vital resources and would prevent other maybe curable patients from benefiting from the instruments being occupied for the practically dead patient.