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Organ Transplants according to Islam

The issue of organ transplantation in Islam is divided into the cases where the donor is alive and when he is dead. There are a couple potential problems regarding organ transplant from a live donor. One of the potential problems is that in Islam it is prohibited to harm oneself to the point of substantial bodily harm. The question would be would saving a life mitigate this prohibition?

Organ transplantation is used in modern medicine to save thousands of lives a year. Islam condones organ transplant, even makes it obligatory at times. But, there are cases where organ transplantation is prohibited as well. This article will examine organ transplantation and the Islamic laws behind it.

Organ transplantation is the moving of an organ from one body to another for the purpose of replacing the recipient’s damaged or absent organ. Medicine has allowed such organs as the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, intestine, and thymus to be transplanted. There is not a long history of organ transplantation, it is relatively new in the medical world. The first successful kidney transplant was in 1954 and the first successful liver and heart transplants were in 1967.

There are not many organ donors in the world. The western world has a much higher percentage of organ donors than the eastern world, but even in the west it is shamelessly low. The donors from deceased patients, per million population in some western countries are: Germany 14.9, UK 15.5, Italy 21.3, and the United States 21.9. In some Islamic countries the numbers are lower, for instance: Saudi Arabia 3.3, Iran 2.9, and Turkey 2.8.

The issue of organ transplantation in Islam is divided into the cases where the donor is alive and when he is dead. There are a couple potential problems regarding organ transplant from a live donor. One of the potential problems is that in Islam it is prohibited to harm oneself to the point of substantial bodily harm. The question would be would saving a life mitigate this prohibition?

Sunni jurists have issued various rulings on this matter. For instance, Yusuf Qardawi states: “Someone who wishes to alleviate another human’s suffering, such as kidney disease, by donating one of his healthy kidneys, is allowed to do so in Islamic law. In fact, it is considered to be a good act and the donor will be duly rewarded…I am of the opinion that there is no prohibition from donating an organ or body part to someone who needs it to cure him/her, and to replace his/her non-functioning organ, such as the kidney or heart etc. with the intent of giving charity. This is considered to be a continual (jariyah) donation, and the rewards for the donor continues to be accrued for as long as there are those who benefit from it.

Furthermore, Muhammad Syed Tantawi of Egypt states: “Live organ donations are permissible by consensus of jurists, whether the recipient be his relative or a stranger, as long as such a donation is considered to be of benefit by a trusted doctor.

The Shia perspective can be ascertained by reviewing the following answers to questions posed to Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani. Ayatollah Khamenei was asked: “If a person is suffering from a fatal illness and the doctors say he will die soon, is it permissible to remove certain organs from his body, such as heart, kidney, etc, before he is dead so that it can be transplanted in the body of another person?” He answered by stating: “If the removal of the organs from the patient’s body leads to his death, it amounts to murder. Otherwise, there is no objection to it provided that it is done with the person’s permission.” The important points in this answer is the clause ‘leads to his death’ and the permission of the donor.

Brain death is an issue that is discussed somewhere in between the donor being alive or dead. The following are verdicts regarding organ transplantation from brain dead patients: Ayatollah Khamenei: “If brain death is untreatable medically, irreversible, and causes brain functioning to cease and all forms of intellect, feeling, and movement to be lost, then his organs can be harvested, with specific conditions…” The specific conditions is the hastening of actual death.

Ayatollah Sistani: “It is impermissible to remove the organs that would cause serious harm to a living, adult, and sane person…brain death is not considered death as long as his heart and lungs are working, even with the help of medical machinery. Thus it would be impermissible to harvest his organs.”

Organ transplantation after death also poses some potential problems. One problem is about consent of the donor and another problem is about disrespecting the body of a dead Muslim. Sunni and Shia jurists have weighed in on this issue. Here is what they have to say.

Yusuf Qadawi: “If an organ to be transplanted is taken from a deceased person, the ruling is that such a transplant is permissible, no matter whether the intention for the transplant by the donor was made in the form of a will by the deceased or otherwise. this is based on exigency, such as saving a life, that transforms what is originally forbidden into a state of permissible. Thus, organ transplants are permissible, as long as there is an urgent need for it.” Important points of this verdict are exigency and the phrase ‘as long as there is an urgent need.’

Ayatollah Khamenei was asked about donating blood vessels after death, his answer: “There is no objection to it provided that it is done with the permission of the person in their lifetime, or with that of their guardian after their death, or when saving a respectful life is contingent upon it.”

He also said: “There is no harm in making use of a dead person’s organs for transplantation in the bodies of other people in order to save their lives or treat their illnesses. There is no objection to origin this one’s will. This ruling however does not cover those parts of the body, whose removal would amount to muthlah (mutilation) of the body itself, or severing them would violate the dignity of the dead according to established the common view.”

Ayatollah Sistani states: “It is permissible, but it is not permissible, as a measure of precaution, to cut an organ of a dead Muslim if he bequeathed, unless a Muslim’s life is in danger.” Hence, as a recommended precaution the recipient should be a Muslim.

Therefore, although organ donation is recommendable, it is not applicable in all cases. When the donor is alive or brain dead the donation cannot hasten his death. If the donor has passed it has to be for saving a life and not to the extent that it would cause mutilation. Ayatollah Khamenei also permits the donation of organs if the donor permitted them before his death. Ayatollah Sistani mentions a precaution regarding the Islam of the recipient.

This article was written by Sheikh Hamid Waqar and first published on 14publications.

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