MNA Kishwer Zehra told colleagues that she has decided to donate her organs after death and will also be moving ‘The Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Bill’ to raise awareness about organ donation in Pakistan. This is a very important debate for the future, and religious scholars have to come together and sort out the dilemma that people face when deciding to donate or not. MNA Moulvi Agha Muhammad, from JUI-F, objected to the bill and said organ donation has never been allowed in Islam. “Body organs belong to God and they should be buried along with the dead body,” he said. Many in Pakistan believe this, but deeper thought is needed. The issue must not be allowed to be dismissed like this by people like Moulvi Agha Muhammad.

Sri Lanka is one of the many countries in the world where posthumous organ donation is common and over 5,000 eyes are donated by Sri Lanka to Pakistan, each year. Are people who oppose organ donation also against accepting organs from donors? Is it Islamic for a person to be buried with a donated liver from someone else? Conservative opinion has to realise that it is a two way street. What of people who lose their limbs, to injury or disease? Are amputations also haram?

We have to realise that modern medicine has progressed beyond the confines of society and religion. We live in times when organs can be grown. If man-made organs can save and prolong lives, does it not circumvent the assumption that all organs belong to God?

Additionally, while those like Moulvi Agha Muhammad oppose these laws that can encourage the saving of thousands of lives, the lack of laws surrounding donations fuels a black market where organs are sold. When it is a matter of life and death, people will beg, borrow and steal. This bill is one step towards legitimate organ availability. In Pakistan, kidney transplants are already available, thus conservative opinion is already lagging behind.

The hope is that people can be sympathetic to the suffering of others, and openly allow doctors to take their organs. The choice is obviously voluntary and must be given to people. Already, organ donation between family members is happening in Pakistan. What Islamic law separates donations between family members versus donation between strangers?

There are other issues as well. In the West, laws and social norms concerning life support for people who are brain dead have been resolved. In Pakistan, when a patient is kept alive by a machine, switching it off then constitutes murder in the eyes of the family, while it is a clear waste of resources in the eyes of the doctor who is already strapped to find resources for the next sick person.

Of course Islamic rulings exist, however, with the way that institutions like the Council of Islamic Ideology rule, endorsing underage marriages and declaring that the existence of woman is anti-Islamic, there is not much hope for them to rule in the favour of organ donation. In fact, the risk is that they will further damage number of transplants that already happen, and create more uncertainty among people.

But there is space for this to change. The human body, whether living or dead, enjoys a special honour and is inviolable in Islamic law. Islamic law emphasises the preservation of human life, especially when ‘necessities permit the prohibited’ (al-darurat tubih al-mahzurat). This has been used to support human organ donation with regards to saving or significantly enhancing a life of another providing that the benefit outweighs the personal cost that has to be borne.

In 1995, the UK based Muslim Law (Shariah) Council resolved that the medical profession is the proper authority to define signs of death and current medical knowledge considers brain stem death to be a proper definition of death. This resolves the issue of keeping patients on life support. The Council accepts brain stem death as constituting the end of life for the purpose of organ transplantation and supports organ transplantation as a means of alleviating pain or saving life on the basis of the rules of the Shariah. Additionally in the UK, the next of kin of a dead person, in the absence of a donor card or an expressed wish to donate their organs, may give permission to obtain organs from the body to save other people’s lives.

This is supported by Muslim scholars from some of the most prestigious academies of the Muslim world. These include the Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (representing all Muslim countries), the Grand Ulema Council of Saudi Arabia, the Iranian Religious Authority and the Al-Azhar Academy of Egypt.

There is space to save lives with the suggested bill, and there has to be some consensus on the issue of health care. The world is progressing with leaps and bounds and we continue to be held hostage to curable diseases like polio. Firstly a separation needs to be made, where the doctor and the scientists are respected more than religious dogma. Secondly, Islamic scholars must take note of this issue, and encourage organ donation to save lives. Precedent and rulings exist. People just have to be made aware of their options, and what they mean for their religious values.