Euthanasia, Mercy Killing and Resuscitation: A Right to Die? (Ethics 1.5)

The word euthanasia comes from Greek, meaning “a good death”. It is also called “mercy-killing”. The intention is to help a person who is suffering and maybe close to death to die, by giving them enough “medication” to kill them. The main motivation is compassion. This is because euthanasia will prevent them from suffering any further whilst possibly shortening their life by only a few days, weeks or months.

In Britain euthanasia is illegal because it could be seen as assisting someone to take their own life (suicide). This is a breach of the “Suicide Act 1961”. Others believe that people have a right to self-determination and that they should be allowed to choose when they wish to end their own lives. However, euthanasia involves at the very least someone else assisting in a person’s death, and at worst actually killing that person!

There are three types of euthanasia. All three are illegal in Britain but the first two types are performed in some countries:

  1. Voluntary – the person asks a doctor to end their life.
  2. Non-voluntary – the person is too ill to ask but it is believed by a doctor (possibly in consultation with the person’s family) to be in the person’s best interest.
  3. Involuntary – disabled, sick, and elderly people, for whom life is not seen to have a point, are killed without any consultation just because they are disabled, sick or elderly.

If euthanasia does happen, it could be passive or active:

  1. Passive – this is either where the dose of painkilling drugs, such as morphine, is increased in the knowledge that there is a risk of life being shortened. Alternatively, treatment is withheld or withdrawn because all it is doing is delaying the natural process of dying. Some say this (the latter) is not really euthanasia at all.
  2. Active – giving a drug which will end life, or withholding all treatment with the deliberate intention of ending life.

Islamic Teaching on Euthanasia:

Islamic teachings on euthanasia are based upon the sanctity of life. Allāh gives life and is responsible for ending it. “Say to them: ‘Allah gives you life, then causes you to die, then He will assemble you on the Day of Resurrection about which there is no doubt. But most of mankind know not.’” (Qur’ān 45:26) He has forbidden mankind from taking their own lives: “And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.” (Qur’ān 4:29) This is all a part of Allāh’s plan and His wisdom so humans should not interfere with that. If a person expresses a desire to end their own life or kill another in a “mercy-killing”, they are claiming to know more than Allāh by denying His decision and His wisdom since He is the one who who owns His creation: “Those whom, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’” (Qur’an 2:156) And He (Allah) has clearly commanded them not to kill themselves. The Prophet Muhammad said in a Hadeeth: “Whoever kills himself with something will be punished by it on the Day of Resurrection.”

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Islam teaches: no matter how much one feels in despair or helpless due to his situation or illness, whether it is terminal or painful, he must remain patient and turn to Allāh for relief and seek from Him cure and forgiveness. In the process, the Muslim is forgiven his sins, covered by the mercy of Allāh and raised into Paradise in the Hereafter.  Sheikh Ibn Bāz (the former Mufti of Saudi Arabia) stated: “It is obligatory on Muslims to have patience and perseverance if they face some calamities or difficulties in their lives, [and] not to rush and kill themselves.  Rather, they must be warned of that, fear Allāh, be patient, and work through it by taking the necessary steps, and whoever fears Allāh and is dutiful, then Allāh will make a way out for him.” So euthanasia is forbidden, and aiding in the killing of another person is considered as murder.

Resuscitation Of A Seriously Ill Person – A Fatwa (Religious Verdict) From Sheikh Ibn Bāz And The Permanent Committee Of Scholars In Saudi Arabia

In certain situations, a person may be so ill that resuscitating them actually brings no benefit. This of course is not considered in Islām as killing or assisting another person in killing. The specific situations where it would be correct not to use resuscitators are as follows:

  • If the patient is suffering from an obstinate illness that is not responding to treatment and their death is certain according to the testimony of three trustworthy specialist doctors, then resuscitators should not be used.
  • If the patient is incapacitated or in a state of mental inactivity due to a chronic illness, or suffering from an advanced stage of cancer, a chronic heart or lung illness, or the recurrence of heart and lung failure, and that is acknowledged by three trustworthy specialist doctors, again resuscitators should not be used.
  • If the patient shows evidence of untreatable brain damage according to the medical report of three trustworthy specialist doctors, the patient should not be resuscitated, as it will be of no benefit.
  • If resuscitation of the heart and lungs will be ineffective and inappropriate in a specific case according to the medical opinion of three trustworthy specialist doctors, then resuscitation should not take place. And no consideration should be given to the opinion of the patient’s family as to whether or not resuscitation should be applied, because this is not their area of expertise. (Source: Fatwa issued by the Permanent Committee, no. 12086)

Questions:

  1. Think of reasons why people may be in favour of euthanasia and why others may be against it. Write these reasons down.
  2. Explain why  Muslims are against euthanasia.
  3. If a person says: “People should have the right to end their life if the pain gets too much for them.” What would be your response? Explain your opinion.
  4. In Islam what is the reward for being patient in times of pain and suffering?

NOTE:

I initially compiled these worksheets for my students at the Redstone Academy (aged between 13 and 16 years), Moseley Road, Birmingham, UK who are working towards their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). I felt that others who do not attend the school can also benefit from these topics since they are presented in simple bitesize chapters. I have relied upon GCSE text books and adapted them for my classes.

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