Embarking on the Journey of Organ Donation and Faith: A Bridge to Saving Lives18 May 2023
Organ and tissue donation have the power to save or improve the lives of hundreds of people in England each year. However, the shortage of donors remains a critical issue, as every day in the UK, someone dies while waiting for a transplant. In the context of Muslim beliefs, the decision to donate organs is a personal matter that is influenced by religious guidance. This article explores the intersection of the Muslim faith and organ donation, presenting different perspectives and shedding light on the considerations involved.
Understanding Organ and Tissue Donation:
Organ and tissue donation involves the selfless act of giving one’s organs or tissues to help individuals in need of a transplant. The organs that can be donated after death include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and small bowel. Additionally, tissues such as heart valves, tendons, corneas, and skin can be donated to improve the lives of others. In certain cases, living donation, such as donating a kidney, bone, or a portion of the liver, is also possible.
Determining Eligibility for Organ Donation:
Healthcare professionals prioritise saving lives and only consider organ or tissue donation once all efforts to save a patient have been exhausted. Organ donation typically occurs after confirming brainstem death, where severe brain injury has damaged the vital centers essential for life. Tests performed by independent senior doctors, following strict criteria, validate brainstem death. In other cases, organs can be donated after circulatory death, where a patient’s heart stops beating and they cease breathing, and a decision is made to withdraw life-sustaining treatment.
Perspectives on Organ Donation within the Muslim Faith:
Within the Muslim community, differing opinions exist regarding organ donation. For Sunni Muslims, historical and contemporary beliefs may lead to the view that organ donation is prohibited (haram) since the human body is considered sacred. However, alternative interpretations understand the act of organ donation as a blessed act, emphasizing the Quranic principle that saving a life is akin to saving all of humanity. Prominent Sunni scholars and Imams in Scotland have emphasized the importance of seeking knowledge about organ donation in Islam and viewing it as a form of perpetual charity.
Shi’a Muslims also hold diverse viewpoints on organ donation. While Ayatullah Al-Sistani does not generally permit organ donation after death unless a Muslim’s life depends on it, Ayatullah Khamenei allows organ donation as long as it does not result in mutilation of the body. Another lesser-known position, advocated by Ayatullah Makaram Shirazi, suggests that organ donation can be permissible if explicitly stated in the donor’s will.
Family Involvement and Considerations:
Families play a pivotal role in the organ and tissue donation process. Healthcare professionals consult the NHS Organ Donor Register to check if the deceased individual had registered a decision regarding donation or opt-out. They also engage with the family to understand any expressed views on donation and consider the impact of their faith on the decision. Open communication and ensuring that the family is aware of the individual’s wishes facilitate the honoring of their choice.
Respect and Care in Organ Donation:
The removal of organs and tissues is conducted with the utmost care and respect. Families are given the opportunity to see the body afterward, and support from chaplains or religious leaders can be arranged if desired. The organ donation procedure is typically completed within a few hours, allowing the body to be returned to the family for burial promptly.
Becoming a Donor:
To ensure that your wishes regarding organ donation are known and respected, it is crucial to register as a donor on the NHS Organ Donor Register and inform your family about your decision. By recording your faith or belief on the register, you can ensure that it is taken into consideration during the donation discussion. Registering as a donor and expressing your preferences regarding the organs or tissues you are willing to donate is essential. It is important to note that if you decide not to donate, registering this decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and communicating it to your family is equally important.
The intersection of the Muslim faith and organ donation presents a nuanced landscape of beliefs and perspectives. While some Muslims may view organ donation as prohibited, others interpret religious teachings as endorsing the act of saving lives through organ donation. Engaging in open discussions with family members, local Imams, or hospital chaplains can provide clarity and guidance when considering organ donation within the context of one’s faith. By registering as a donor and ensuring that your family is aware of your decision, you can contribute to bridging perspectives and potentially save lives through the selfless act of organ and tissue donation.