Islam encourages people to seek treatments for diseases because preserving life is of paramount importance in Islam. There are many religious texts encouraging people to seek treatment for the illnesses they face. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, are we allowed to seek treatment?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) answered, “Yes, seek treatment, for there is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.” It is for this reason that Muslim scholars state that there is nothing wrong with using people as a subjects in experiments as long as certain conditions and ethical guidelines are observed.
Dr. Muhammad Rafat `Uthman, former dean of the Faculty of Shari`ah at Al-Azhar University and a member of Al-Azhar Research Academy, states the following: The rulings of the Islamic Shari`ah are all for the benefit of man both in this world and in the Hereafter. In order to achieve this benefit, theShari`ah aims at preserving three general things referred to by scholars as necessities, needs, and improvements of life.
Necessities of Life
Imam Ash-Shatibi defined necessities of life as “the things that are indispensable for fulfilling the religious and worldly interests. In other words, should one of these necessities be missing, one’s life in this world would be corrupted and in the Hereafter, one would be a loser and deprived of the blessings of Paradise.”
Ash-Shatibi then mentioned that there are five necessities of this kind: preserving one’s religion, life, lineage, intellect, and property.
Needs of Life
According to Ash-Shatibi, needs of life are such things that man may do without, yet this would cause him great hardship and difficulty. Examples of this are the dispensations Islam gives to Muslims to break their fast in Ramadan when they are sick or traveling so as to spare them the hardship involved therein if they kept fasting.
Improvements of Life
Improvements of life, as defined by Ash-Shatibi, are such things pertaining to adopting good behavior and avoiding base manners. In a word, they refer to good morals such as prohibiting insulting people, fraud, and women’s going out with full makeup and adornment that may arouse the instincts of men.
As for the question in hand, the above lines show that preserving life is one of the necessities of life, and it is quite well known that seeking medical treatment is an indispensable means in this regard.
Seeking Medical Treatment
In Islam, man should not leave himself a prey to disease without taking the possible measures in seeking treatment. In this regard, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked, ‘‘O Messenger of Allah, are we allowed to seek treatment?” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) answered, “Yes, seek treatment, for there is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”
Hence, we are required by the Shari`ah to seek to discover treatments for all diseases. It is an undeniable fact in this regard that in order to discover the effectiveness of a certain medicine, it should first be tested on human subjects. It is concluded from this that making experiments on human beings is permissible so long as it is for the good of man and helps in preserving his life and improving his health. But there are certain Shari`ah ethics and guidelines that should be observed in this regard.
Shari`ah Restrictions on Experiments Using Human Beings
The issue of using human beings as subjects in experiments has been raised in international conferences and symposiums and many scientific and juristic researches have been offered in this regard. As a result, there issued certain restrictions from the viewpoint of Shari`ah on making medical experiments on human beings as follows:
1. The findings of the medical research in question should be of concrete progress to medical knowledge.
2. The hypothesis of the medical research cannot be proved by making experiments on animals.
3. The researchers should get the required findings by making experiments on the fewest number of people and the subjects used should be exposed to the least amount of harm possible during the experiments in question.
4. The researchers who conduct the experiments are of such experience and qualifications that enable them to protect the subjects against any possible harm.
5. The subjects are informed beforehand of the purpose of the experiment to be made upon them and of the consequences and any possible dangers.
6. All the necessary precautions are to be taken to observe the privacy of the subjects and that these findings will not be used against the subjects in the research in question.
7. The outline and purpose of the research are submitted to ethics committees in the universities, institutes, or academies concerned and are ethically and scientifically approved of by these committees.
In conclusion, using human beings as subjects in medical experiments is permissible on condition that the above restrictions are abided by.