Adherents of Islam believe submission to the will of God (Allah) is the central duty of humans. Therefore, Muslims strive to discern God's will in all areas of life. When death approaches, submission takes the form of accepting God's will. This means that ordinary means of sustaining life by medical care are acceptable, but prolonging life by extraordinary means is not required or appropriate. Death is a natural process directed by God.
Submission at End of Life
Muslims believe fidelity to God involves submitting to God's will at all times. At the end of life, this submission requires accepting death and the transition to another phase of existence. Death should be accepted when the person is no longer able "to serve and worship Allah," according to Islamic physician Dr. Faroque A. Khan in a paper in the Fordham Urban Law Journal. After the end of earthly life, individuals are held accountable for their actions before God. The Quran talks about the inevitability of death and that subsequent encounter with God: "Every soul shall have a taste of death: In the end to us shall you be brought back" (Quran 29:57).
Advances in medical care in the modern era have made possible the extension of human life through technological means. This has created ethical questions for adherents of all religions, and each religious community answers those questions differently. Adherents of Islam generally express reluctance to use extraordinary means to prolong human life. Rather, Muslims believe death is a natural process directed by God that should not be interrupted.
Providing normal medical care along with food and water (nutrition and hydration) by ordinary means to a dying person is considered appropriate within Islam. However, providing extraordinary care (including nutrition and hydration by artificial means) with the sole objective of prolonging the life of a dying person is considered unnecessary and inappropriate. In his paper, Dr. Khan concluded that "it is morally -- 'Islamically' -- acceptable and often an act of love to forgo or withdraw technologies and treatments aimed at prolonging life, such as ventilation, dialysis, nutrition, and hydration, when it offers little reasonable benefit to the patient."
It is important to emphasize that Muslims do not advocate euthanasia, which they would see as a human choice to end a person's life. Rather, the Muslim opposition to using extraordinary means to prolong life reflects the pious desire that each person should experience a natural death at a time of God's choosing. In this context, "the disease causes the death" while the individual "accepts the inevitability of the dying process and Allah's will."
- Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images News/Getty Images