In this paper, I am going to look at the most important and general principles of Islamic ethics. Just to begin with, one should have at least a certain level of cultural understanding in order to be fully sensitive about its environment and religion to which he/she is leaving in. Here, despite the normal ethics which are found in all the religions, Islamic religion has got specific ethics which guide them in their day to day life. The main objective of this paper is to specifically deal with how Muslims understand health and compare it with science as far as Muslims ethics are concerned. There social implications will also be broadly analyzed.
The paper will not only teach the Muslim physicians on how to carry out their duties but also ensure that the Muslim medical ethics are followed to the latter. While discussing about ethics in any society, it is very crucial to first of all appreciate the beliefs, conceptual frameworks and perspectives of that particular religion (Ullmann, M, 28). Hence, medical ethics can be defined as the analytical activity in which particular are: attitudes, emotions, reasons, assumptions, beliefs, and arguments underlining medico-moral decision making are examined critically (Ullmann 83). The guiding principles of Islamic ethics and law are; maintenance of life, protection of an individual's freedom of belief, maintaining the intellect, preservation of honor and integrity and protection of property. The dynamic problems facing the Muslims as a community are solved by the Islamic law while at the same time taking care of the Muslim fraternity (Ullmann 78).
Genetic manipulation, assisted conception and adoption
According to Islamic belief, each and every human being has his/her unique inherent value of goodness as well as individual importance in the society. At the same time, human beings have the right to remain autonomous and choose the right path which can benefit a person as well as the entire society. The scientific genetic invention should not violate the Muslim’s beliefs. According to Saunders (98) a very accurate and clear understanding of anybody’s pedigree is considered in the Muslims culture as one of the fundamental human right. It is therefore, recommended that only somatic cells should be used in transplanting of genetics materials. The method will not only help in improving parental integrity but also maintaining the hereditary characteristics of a generation. This is to ensure that children are born through a valid union that is through marriage and this makes them to know their lineage fully. The Islamic culture only allows artificial to be carried out in the context that sperms from the spouse’s husband is used. This still bring out the issue of marriage into real practice.
Prenatal screening and termination of pregnancy
It is believed that each and every person has been created in his/her mothers womb as a drop normally known as (nutfa) for a period of forty days, followed by a leech like clot (alaqa) for also the same period of time. Then a piece of flesh (mughda) follows alaqa for forty days (Saunders 87). Finally, God sends the angel to blow the spirit (ruh) into him. This is the general way in which God creates human beings. The Muslim community believes that a fetus is formed in the womb 120 days after the date of conception. Therefore, after 120 days, termination of the fetus is considered as murder (Saunders 65). The already existing life is preferred over the developing one because of the fetus responsibilities and ties. Although the Muslims are so strict and passionate about the issue of abortion, they do allow the termination of the pregnancy in the event where the mother’s health is at risk. Any other reason to terminate pregnancy other than the already mentioned is highly prohibited and not allowed at any time.
Sex before marriage and a child out of wedlock is a taboo according to the Islamic culture Huff reiterates that married people may use contraceptives when they are experiencing tough economic situations (162). This will help the couple to raise their children comfortable without straining so much.
Sunders definition of abortion entails termination of pregnancy after 23 weeks by the use of chemical or drug means (89). In the Islamic religion, when the zygote is prevented from being formed, it is not considered abortion. This is because, life begins at conception and at this particular moment, life has not yet begun. It is therefore clear that the Islamic religion gives the fetus the right to life just like any other person (Dolls, M, W 76).
Generally speaking, Muslims consider elective elimination of fetus from a healthy mother as murder and is highly prohibited (Huff, T, 59). Use of contraceptives that are either harmful to the fetus or that denies the fetus its life are not allowed in the Muslim community (Saunders, J. 76). Pregnancy results from some circumstance like rape can be terminated to prevent the woman going through depression or facing trauma.
Techniques in assisted reproductive technology
The issue of infertility has been addressed in the Quran, Surah 42: 49-50:' to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; He creates what He wills; He bestows male or female, according to his will; or He bestows both males and females and He leaves barren whom He will; for He is full of knowledge and power.'
Assisted reproductive technology has evolved right from the techniques which are perceived to be older such as GIFT, TET (Tubal Embryo Transfer and PROST (pronuclear stage transfer) to new and more and sophisticated techniques such as IVF and ICSI (4). More accurate and best techniques have also emerged out and they are: culturing embryos to the blasto cyst stage and the assisted hatching of embryos (Eskandarani, H. 1996 32).
The first step in IVF circle is to use drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce many follicles. This is done specifically to produce oocytes. The oocytes are then sprayed with sperms to fertilize it (Eskandarani, H. 1996 39). Then the culturing of embryo follows for 32-3 days before they are selected based on their morphology and cell counts. The embryo is then taken back to the uterus of the mother to develop.
The methods come in handy to women who miscarry or can not carry the pregnancy for 9 months. The method specially involves implanting or putting an embryo of a certain mother into the womb of a different mother. This method is not welcomed by the Muslims ethics. This is so because the sperm which fertilized the ovum is from a different man and not the husband of the woman carrying the embryo (Eskandarani, H. 1996 54).
End of life issues and brain death
It is believed that the hand of God is the soul of human being and any miscarried fetus draws its mother to the paradise using the umbilical cord (Saunders, J. 165). This is when the fetus tries to seek reward for the loss soul from God. In this regard, every child should die in good faith (Huff, T, 62). Every child is born very pure and innocent in the eyes of God and should remain holly to the sacred laws for him/her to be called healthy or considered whole. In the event of child death, the relatives are usually consoled by been told that the child is pure and he/she will be on the forefront in paradise (Saunders, J. 65).
Nobody is actually allowed to deliberately end the life of another human being. Taking of own life is not only prohibited in the Islamic religion but also in all religions in the world. Life is being saved at whole stages even in the process where one is critically ill. This is the reason why critically ill persons are always put on health supporting machines or even taken to intensive health units. This belief is supported by the fact that actions are being judged by intentions (Huff, T, 66). When one is being treated, there should be no withdrawal of any drugs or food for the person to die. Medication should be given until the point of death.
Physician and Islamic medical ethics
Just to begin with, access to human health care is considered as a human fundamental right. In medicine, sometimes it becomes very difficult for a medical practitioner to separate science and the Islamic laws (Huff, T, 21). Therefore, he/she has to choose the best practices in order to save life of a patient. This become crucial since as mentioned earlier when someone kills one person then he/she is considered to have taken a way the life of all mankind. This forces a physician to draw conclusion from rules of Islamic laws as well as the Islamic medical ethics.
The two main principles of Islamic medical ethics are; one who saves a life saves the life of a whole mankind and every disease which is considered to be created by God, he must as well create a cure for it. This rule is not applicable to old age since it is inevitable in the human race (Adab Al-Tabib by Al-Ruhawi).
The whole discussion denotes that a physician does not only make decisions according to his/her knowledge and experience but also based on Islamic teachings and medical ethics. This is in the best interest of his/her patient whether a Muslim or anon Muslim.
Postmortem examinations and organ transplantation
Islamic religion has it that when operate the dead then is like operating the living. It has been stated in the Quran that there is a possibility that the dead can also feel pain. This is one of the main reasons why the Muslim community is very reluctant to allow postmortem examinations. In addition, it is prohibited and against the law for someone to act inhumanly to fellow human being whether dead or a live. It is a common knowledge that postmortem examination process involves some operations as well as scooping of some parts of the dead body (Huff, T, 32). This is considered inhuman by the Muslims hence they always burry the dead without carrying out postmortem even if it is a mysterious death which needs examination. Perhaps the use of magnetic resonance necropsy may solve this problem in future. This is due to the fact that it does not involve the open body method.
Organ transplant is nowadays being practiced in many Arab Muslim countries, and considered by some as a “perpetual” charitable act. Despite this, the selling of human body parts is not encouraged.
One of the most controversial medical ethics among the Muslims is a bout circumcision. This is due to the fact that it is not stated clearly in the Quran. It cannot be denied that it is widely spread in the modern world (Huff, T, 33). When it comes to the issue of female circumcision, it brings about more confusion because some women also prefer circumcision (Dolls, M, and W 234).The discussion is still on going especially on how the cultural values should accommodate this. Circumcision is performed according to the religious belief as well customary law. Muslims do not encourage bodily harm not unless the harm is geared towards bringing on recovery (Huff, T, 76). Circumcision sometimes is misunderstood as a way of castration but this is not the case with the Muslims belief. It does bring bodily harm but has got several merits. This has made the Muslim community to accept circumcision and make it part and parcel of there life.
The issue of circumcision in female is controversial even though it is believed that the first woman to get circumcised was Hagar who was Abraham’s second wife. Nevertheless, this was a punishment from Sarah who was Abraham’s first wife. Circumcision therefore, among women not only brings a bad image but also damages women sexual organs. Because of the above reason, it is really discouraged among the Muslim community (Dolls, M, W 88). On the other hand, circumcision is considered purity among men and hence it is being encouraged in the highest terms possible.
One of the most important questions asked in any doctor-patient relation is whether the patient have faith in the doctor (Dolls, M, W 79).This is applicable everywhere and not only in Islamic religion. It is quite important for the doctor to be experienced and have a wide knowledge in medicine. But we find that among the Muslim community, there are some rules and regulations which govern doctor-patient relation. Another big question that is commonly asked is whether a male doctor should treat a female doctor and vice-versa. It is better understood that whether a female doctor is examining a male patient or vice versa, the private part of the patient should be overlooked order to provide human dignity (Huff, T, 29). Also, when a doctor and a patient of the opposite sex are locked inside a room, then it raises eyebrows since according to the Islamic belief, one should only be in a private place with his or her couple (Dolls, M, W 100).
Any doctor who is committed to treating patients cannot have the intention of terminating his/her own carriers. Doctors should have a habit of healing patients and not rousing temptation. Therefore, male doctor can just treat a female patient and vice-versa even though same sex patient-doctor is strongly encouraged. A devoted Muslim doctor is considered to have only one soul. Meaning she/he serves only the purpose to which he is supposed to serve.
Islamic teachings include all aspects of life which include material, individual and societal, economics and politics, national and international (Dolls, M, W 76). This was well taught by Prophet Mohammed during His farewell pilgrimage. He stated categorically,” This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” (5:3). In the above discussion, it should be appreciated that in each and every religion, there should be rules and regulations which govern all sectors including medical. The Islamic religion in particular has shaped the medical sector.
Browne, E. Islamic Medicine. Good word Books.2002.Print.
Dolls, M, W. Medieval Islamic Medicine: IbnRidwan's Treatise "On the Prevention of Bodily Ills in Egypt". Comparative Studies of Health Systems and Medical Care. University of California Press: New York.1984.print.
Huff, T. The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West. Cambridge University Press: London.2003.print
Pormann, Peter E.; Savage-Smith, Emilie.Medieval Islamic Medicine.Edinburgh University Press.2007.Print
Saunders, J. A History of Medieval Islam. Routledge. 1978. Print
Ullmann, M.Islamic Medicine. Islamic Surveys. Edinburgh: Univ. Press.1978.Print.
Eskandarani, H. Assisted Reproductive Technology: State of the ART. Publications of the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ISESCO). Al-Wafa Printing Press. Saudi Arabia. 1996