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IN RETROSPECT

Euthanasia:

Is it the right way out?

Shadia Rahman


Introduction

Euthanasia or "mercy killing" has been a hot topic in New Zealand and Australia in recent times. Euthanasia refers to ending the life of someone suffering from an incurable disease, usually a disease causing excruciating pain.

The Secular Arguments

Proponents of euthanasia argue that it gives relief from or avoids prolonged suffering, and emerges from the human right to control one's own life and to die with dignity. They also claim that the quality of life is more important than its quantity, and that there is no point in prolonging a life which can no longer achieve anything or sustain itself. Ending a "futile" life now could save the life of someone in need of a vital organ, and would save family and friends the burden and trauma of having to care for an invalid.

These concerns have become highlighted in modern times because of new medical technologies and procedures, which can keep people "alive" in ways never before dreamed possible, and because of the rising costs of medical care. It can now be difficult to tell at which stage a person stops being alive and becomes dead in the real sense of the word. It is also hard to decide whether it is "worth" keeping someone in hospital when they really don't even want to be alive, and when the resources could be used to save the life of another person.

Euthanasia is one extreme while prolonging life by support is another. In the present era of materialism, both are practiced in a wrong fashion. For rich and 'influential' persons, their lives are prolonged by utilizing life support systems while poor people who can not afford hospital payments, and those who are not 'important' personalities, their lives are taken in the plea of relief from sufferings. Both Euthanasia and living on life support are tampering with the course and time of natural death. The basic approach of life that works for these two practices is the assumption that man is whole sole master of everything in this world including mankind. The belief of secular materialism is 'there is no god but 'Man'. Man has the full freedom and capability to frame all rules and regulations in his life. Man is the Master and Lord of the worlds. Another belief that directs all the decisions and activities of the secular materialists is that there is no belief in life after death. Man has to think, plan and act only for the short span of life in this world.

The Islamic View

Islam, the guidance given to the first man, prophet Adam (a) up to the last prophet Muhammad (s) has an entirely different approach to life from that of the secular. Following are its basic fundamentals on which its true followers think and act upon:

  1. Man has not given life to himself. Life has been given to man by Allah, the Creator, the Sustainer and the Nourisher.
  2. Allah provides tender and careful nourishment to all existence in the universe (including human beings) from moment to moment and from stage to stage all that is required to gain the fullest possible development.

"Praise be to Allah only - the Nourisher of all Beings."

(Quran, 1:1)

  1. Man is the latest and the noblest link in the process of creative evolution on earth. Allah has made prolonged careful arrangement in the shaping and for the living of man in this world and therefore man is not created just to eat and drink for a little moment on earth and get extinguished for ever. There is a life hereafter in which the present form of human life disappears ?? to assume a still higher form, depending upon recompense. All recompense or reward or punishment is directly a reaction to one's own actions.
  2. Allah has given four kinds of hidayah (guidance) in heirarchy. First is the Guidance of Instincts innate in animal life, the second is the Guidance of Senses that provides animals and human beings sight, hearing, taste, feel amd smell by means of which the knowledge of the external world of relations is gathered. The third kind is the Hidayah of Reason, a directive force provided in man which opens out for him an endless vista of progress. Then the fourth one is the Hidayah of Revelation - al-Huda. It is the universal guidance of Divine Revelation vouchsafed to one and all from the beginning without distinction.

All the four Hidayah pertaining to the action of suicide and murder converge to the following conclusion as presented in the Quran:

Suicide

The Quran states:

"Nor kill or destroy yourselves, for verily Allah hath been Most Merciful. "

(Quran, 4: 29)

And a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) tells of two companions who were in such pain from injuries received that they lost courage and killed themselves. In respect of one companion the Holy Prophet (s) mentioned that Allah (swt) said "My servant hastened himself to me and so I made paradise unlawful for him". About the other, who was a distinguished warrior, the Holy Prophet (s) himself said

"Despite the great feats displayed by this man, that single act of his wiped off all his services in the cause of Allah and doomed him to hell."

(Hadith, Bukhari)

From these it is evident that suicide is absolutely forbidden in Islam.

Murder

The human life is accorded great respect in Islam. Humans are the noblest of all creatures. Allah has made us His vicegerents on earth (Quran, 2: 30). Human life is therefore considered inviolable:

"Nor take life ­ which Allah has made sacred ­ except for just cause."

(Quran, 17: 33)

"If a man kills a Believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (forever): and the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him."

(Quran, 4: 93)

According to Islam death is not an end-point but it is a terminal to shift from the temporary abode in this world to the permanent life in the Hereafter. For a non-believer the living in this world is the only period in which man can enjoy. Thus the objective of living becomes diametrically opposed for the two different approaches to life. In Islam one has to live for the betterment of all humanity undergoing stress and strain even to the extent of sufferring for the reward in the next life. Whereas in the present materialistic approach, one has to get material benefit and comfort only in this life even at the cost of exploiting others.

From the Islamic point of view death is a trivial matter. One should neither undergo it in an unnatural way to avoid prolonged sufferring nor postpone death artificially with the help of advanced supports.

Euthanasia is the process of ending life by artificial means. It is to change the uncertainity of the time of natural death depending upon so many seen and unseen, known and unknown factors into the certainity of the time of death by certain known and calculated means through some drugs or injections. Thus it is quiet obvious that euthanasia is a sort of murder committed by the person or agency performing it over a patient. Similarly, if the patient himself/herself is willing to get his life terminated by the agency and gives full approval and permission in full knowledge of the process is committing suicide. It is suicide in the sense of willingly and deliberately dying before the time for natural death, the time appointed in the divine scheme.

It is now obvious that, as suicide and murder both in general terms are prohibited in Islam, euthanasia is also prohibited in Islam.

Concept of Sufferings and Afflictions

Just as death means two different entities for a believer and a non-believer, suffering also has two different connotations - one for a believer and the other for a non-believer.

We must all undergo some suffering, for this is how Allah (swt) tests us, to see how steadfast we are in His path. The life of Prophet Ayyub (a) is an example to us of how to deal with adversity. This forbearing Prophet faced the loss of his children and his wealth, and also contracted a devastating skin disease, which caused all to leave him except his faithful and devoted wife. But he remained thankful to Allah (swt) throughout, for all the blessings he still had, or had had in the past. Not once did he complain or feel sorry for himself. Only after twelve years did he cry to Allah (swt) over his misfortune. This is the example to which we should aspire. When we are faced with calamities, we should remember Allah (swt) and exercise patience:

But give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere ­ who say, when afflicted with calamity "To Allah we belong and to Him is our return": They are those on whom (descend) Blessings from Allah and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance.

(Quran, 2: 155-7)

Ailments and calamities can also be looked upon as blessings in disguise. The Prophet (s) himself showed this when he once consoled a sick person thus:

"Have no fear. The ailment will prove purifying [from sin] if Allah wills"

(Hadith, Bukhari)

The Prophet (s) said on a separate occasion

"Do not abuse fever, for it cleans out sins of Bani Adam as a furnace cleans out the dirt of iron."

(Hadith, Muslim)

If we look upon suffering in this manner, it will ease our mind, and remind us that this world is but a temporary one. The sufferings of this world pale in comparison to what we will have to undergo in the next world if we take the wrong way out.

The Islamic Concept of Mercy

Another lesson which can be taken from the story of Prophet Ayyub (a) is the role of others in easing a person's suffering. The wife of Prophet Ayyub (a) stayed with her husband through all calamities and did everything in her power to help and provide for her husband. This shows that Muslims should render services to those in need. This includes visiting sick people, encouraging them to be patient, and praying for them. Indeed, the Prophet (s) has said that visiting a Muslim when he is sick is one of the obligations owed by one Muslim to another (Hadith, Bukhari and Muslim). Relatives have the further obligation of taking care of the sick among them. This is the real concept of mercy in Islam: helping and encouraging others, not pushing them into the jaws of death.

Those who are ailing are encouraged to seek cures from lawful medication, but not from malignant and harmful substances such as poison. Muslims should not wish for their own death. The Holy Prophet (s) has said:

"No one of you should ever wish for death because of any misfortune that befalls him. Should anyone be sore afflicted, he should say: "Allah, keep me alive so long as life is the better for me, and cause me to die when death is the better for me.'"

(Hadith, Bukhari and Muslim)

This is because so long as a Believer has life, he or she can keep on doing good deeds, and as long as a sinner has life, he or she has a chance to repent and reform.

The Real Essence of Being

In Islam, the real essence of being is devotion to Allah (swt). We must always remember that our life in this world is only an examination for the everlasting life of the Hereafter, and our ultimate goal is to achieve Paradise in that neverending world. The examination will be harder for some than for others, but if we hold onto our faith and pray to Allah (swt) to grant us patience and steadfastness, then Insha Allah we will be successful. Euthanasia is a cop out, and those who consent to euthanasia, and those who help in carrying it out, risk losing that ultimate goal forever.



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