Saturday, October 30, 2010

International Islamic Medical Conference Focuses on Muslim Organ Donors

How to dispel Muslim prejudices against organ donations is the focus of the 5th International Congress of the International Society for the History of Islamic Medicine.

The question "Why do some Muslims still resist organ donation?" was examined at the conference hosted by Istanbul University from Tuesday to Thursday. Some 200 experts on medicine, theology and related fields from approximately 30 countries, including Syria, Turkey, Iran, Malaysia, the United States and France, participated in the event.

The problem is that even though the vast majority of Islamic legal scholars permit organ donations, it is still perceived with considerable distrust by the general Muslim public.

The High Council for Religious Affairs of the Religious Affairs Directorate in Turkey ruled in a 1980 decision that Islam allows organ donation and transplantation. Similar rulings have been issued by organizations in various Muslim countries, such as the International Islamic Conference in Malaysia, the Islamic Juridical Complex, the Higher Scholars Committee in Saudi Arabia, as well as Fatwa Committees in Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt and Algeria. Moreover, religious authorities in many Muslim countries often join campaigns organized by nongovernmental organizations or hospitals to increase awareness about the issue and its religious aspects.

Much discussion of the subject among Islamic authorities centers on the topic of brain death, explained Hakan Ertin, an associate professor of medicine history and ethics at Istanbul University. "Organ transplantation after brain death is accepted by the majority of religious representatives in the Islamic world, including Turkey," Ertin said.

"The definition of death cannot be based on whether there has been separation of body and soul, as there is no exact [and scientific] definition of what the soul is," Ismail Yakıt, a well-known Turkish theologian and professor at Akdeniz University told the Daily News. He added that physicians have the last word in defining whether a human body has any chance to function normally again.

"[People often say things like] 'It's against my religion,' 'I could not find [organ transplants] in the Quran' or 'We need our organs at Judgment Day," Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, a doctor and researcher of Syrian origin who lives in the United Kingdom, said in a session.

A stance against organ donation is a self-created taboo that people classify as religious, said Al-Ghazal, who works as a plastic surgeon, adding that verses in the Quran actually support the practice.

"The Quran says 'Saving one life is equal to saving all mankind' in one of its verses," he said, adding that one of the five main tenets of Islam is the protection of life. These, he said, provide clear evidence that Islam does not forbid organ transplantation if it is needed to save a human life.

However, the conference exposed that there are other concerns besides Islamic law tthat make members of the Muslim public suspicious about organ donations.

Despite campaigns by religious authorities to encourage the practice, many people are reluctant to donate organs because of a lack of confidence in related laws and how they are implemented, explained Hanzade Doğan, an associate professor of clinical ethics.

"People in Turkey, including myself, are still not sure whether there will be a fair judgment of their vital signs in the event of a serious injury before their organs are transplanted."

Other topics addressed by the conference include the historical development of Islamic medicine and its contribution to world medicine; interaction between Islamic and Western medicine; the development of medical education and the development of health institutions and medical associations in Islamic societies; the diagnosis and treatment of diseases in Islamic medicine; and Islamic medical ethics.

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