Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Organ Donation

By Sabria S. Jawhar
The Saudi Gazette

Having sat next to my mother on many occasions in hospitals while she receives dialysis I tend to pay close attention to whatever Dr. Faisal Shaheen, director of the Saudi Center of Organ Transplantation, has to say about his campaign to increase awareness of organ donations.
As part of the center's awareness campaign, Saudi television Channel 3 Al-Riyadh hosted a discussion with Dr. Shaheen and a father who donated the organs of his brain-dead 8-year-old daughter.

I think what was most gratifying about the program was the discussion from both a scientific and religious point of view regarding organ donations and its impact on families of both the donor and the recipient. And I give thanks to God that the campaign is responsible for an 80 percent increase in awareness among Saudis about the vital need for transplants.

But at the end of this program a father, whose son was declared brain dead, called in and accused organ donation officials of being criminals and that the act of removing organs from brain dead victims is a "killing." He cited some Qur'anic verses to support his argument.

I empathize with the caller and don't blame him for his anger. We all would just about do and say anything to protect a love one, especially in a time of grief.
But as Muslims we must look at the bigger picture and see the benefit that the entire society stands to gain with organ transplants.

We should not judge such sensitive issues based on our at-the-moment emotions. Dr. Shaheen stated that transplant programs will help save the lives of more than 11,000 kidney, liver and other patients. In 2006, more than 5,000 potential transplant recipients remained on waiting lists.

An organ donation will spare Muslim patients the daily pain of dialysis and water drainage. And it will save the country billions of riyals that are spent on medication, money that should go to prevention and research.

We all have a responsibility towards our society, which should never be separated from our religious duty. I am aware of the fact that some Muslim scholars are somewhat conservative on the issue of organ donations, especially when we arrive at the point where we must declare a person dead.

But we can't take Qur'anic verses literally and base our judgment on them especially when it comes to science. A team of scholars from both science and religion should sit together and discuss the issue before a fatwa is issued. This is exactly what the Supreme Council of Senior Ulama did. In 1981, the Ulama allowed both organ donation and organ transplantation in the case of necessity, by determining that the organ can be taken from the body of a living person with his/her consent and also from the body of a dead person.

The Fiqh Academy of the Muslim World League in Makkah also allowed organ donation and transplantation in its 8th session in 1984. And in 1987, the Fiqh Academy of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah and the Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Sayyed At-Tantawi, also allowed the use of the body organs of a person who has died in an accident.

It is important to note that most of the jurists have only allowed the donation of the organs. They do not allow the sale of human organs. Their position is that the sale of human organs violates the rules of the dignity and honor of the human being, and so it would be haram in that case.

If we consider organ donations from an Islamic point of view, though I am not a religion scholar, we should take into consideration the Qur'anic verse that says, "Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind." (Qur'an, 5:32)

I recognize that much of these religious issues boils down to the definition of death. The People's Assembly in Egypt this month is struggling with this very issue.
Akram Al-Shaer, an Egyptian MP and member of the health committee studying the issue for the People's Assembly, told the Egyptian press last week that he opposes a proposed organ donation law.

Al-Shaer told a television interviewer that, "I will only approve the new law if it was issued based on a correct definition of death; which is the permanent and definite stop of both the heart and the brain, which should be declared by a professional physician based on an extremely accurate and scientific analysis."

He said the proposed law makes no mention of the stopping of the heart to be an indication of death, leaving only brain failure as the only indication.
Whether one agrees with Al-Shaer, he has a point: Death should be declared by a professional physician based on science.

And as far as I am concerned that statement makes his point irrelevant. A person who is declared brain dead by a qualified doctor will never rejoin his family no matter how long the heart remains beating or how strong our emotions are for our loved ones. Death is a messy thing. Rarely does death accommodate us by having brain and heart functions cease at the same time. But having one or the other stop functioning is indeed death in my opinion. At some point we must rely on the professional physician to tell us when a loved one is dead and to be ready to save another's life

Why do we leave the strong evidence that supports donations, including the fatwa from the Council of Senior Ulama, and instead follow extreme conservatives or the ignorant when it comes to religion?

By having such organ transplant centers and systematizing the process of donations and transplants under the supervision of a competent and compassionate authority, we spare society the trap of commercial abuse. By moving beyond the borders of our selfishness and limited thinking, we help promote healthy programs.
***The painting is by Pat Zeunik, 10th Grade, Age: 15, Central Catholic High School Bloomington, IL, a winner of life goes on 2005 Organ Donor Poster Contest.


Abu Omar said...

Assalaamu alaikum sister Sabria,

nice post. Agree with the organ donations thing, really good for the society.
But don't agree to what you say on being 'brain dead'.
How could anyone say that's as good as being dead, and then they would remove life support?
There have been cases where people were declared brain dead and they came back to life.
and also see this

What if tomorrow they have brain transplants, so death definition will change?

Brain dead people actually have some response, the basic reflex actions.

I think I read the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia saying as long as heart beats, its not allowed to remove the respiratory system.

Science is great, but its not ultimate like Islam. It takes U turns, it has defects. It develops constantly.

Islam is not judged on the scale of science, Science is judged on the scale of Islam for determining what is true and correct. :-)


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I work in abdominal transplant and I totally agree with you on the issue of declaring brain death.People need to be educated more. Atleast I know I would not want to continue living on respirator it is much more painful than anyone can imagine and looking into the eyes of the patients who are on transplant lists waiting for months to years and seeing their loved ones suffer. You just wish there was more to it.