Medical Experts & Islamic Scholars Deliberating Over Brain Death: Gaps In The Applied Islamic Bioethics Discourse

Aasim I. Padela, Hasan Shanawani and Ahsan Arozullah

This paper was presented in partial form at the 2009 Islamic Medical Association of North America Annual Convention in Washington DC, and at the 3rd Islam and Bioethics International Conference in Antalya Turkey in 2010. Dr. Padela’s time-effort and project funding was through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program. We thank the tireless effort, teaching, and intellectual content review of Shaykh Mohamed Amin Kholwadia, resident scholar at the Dar-ul-Qasim Islamic Educational Institute, Glen Ellyn, IL and all those who participated in our bi-monthly scholastic seminars.




The scope, methodology and tools of Islamic bioethics as a self-standing discipline remain open to debate. Physicians, sociologists, Islamic law experts, historians, religious leaders as well as policy and health researchers have all entered the global discussion attempting to conceptualize Islamic bioethics. Arguably, the implications of Islamic bioethical discourse is most significant for healthcare practitioners and their patients, as patient values interact with those of healthcare providers and the
medical system at large leading to ethical challenges and potential cultural conflicts. Similarly the products of the discourse are of primary import to religious leaders and Imams who advise Muslim patients on religiously acceptable medical practices. However, the process and products of the current Islamic bioethical discourse contains gaps that preclude them from meeting the needs of healthcare practitioners, religious leaders, and those they advise.

Within the medical literature, published works on Islamic bioethics authored by medical practitioners often contain gaps such as the failure to account for theological debates about the role of the intellect, ‘aql, in ethical decision making, failure to utilize sources of Islamic law, and failure to address the pluralism of opinions within the Islamic ethicolegal framework.2 On the other hand, treatises authored by Islamic legal experts and fata ¯wa ¯ offered by traditional jurisconsults often lack a practical focus and neglect healthcare policy  implications. Multiple organizations have attempted to address these gaps through a multidisciplinary approach of bringing together  various experts, healthcare practitioners and traditional jurisconsults when addressing questions of concern to medical practitioners and Islamic scholars.

The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the necessary expertise when undertaking applied Islamic bioethical deliberations. By outlining who (and what) should be brought to these deliberations, future Islamic bioethics discourse should produce relevant decisions for its consumers. Our analysis begins with defining the consumers of applied Islamic bioethics and their needs. We then proceed to describe the state of the discourse and the various individual and organizational participants. Based on Islamic bioethical discussions regarding brain death, we evaluate how well select products meet the needs of consumers and consider what additional expertise might be needed o adequately address the questions. Finally, we offer a general description of experts that must be brought together in collaborative efforts within applied Islamic bioethics.