Organ transplant can save many lives, says Dr. Al-Bar

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By Hassan Cheruppa

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH –
Donation of organs has gained more acceptances in modern day treatment and it is very much laudable as an act of charity, altruism and love for mankind, according to an eminent physician and Islamic scholar.

Dr. Mohammed Ali Al-Bar, an internationally acclaimed Saudi jurist, said that human organs are not a commodity and they would be donated free in response to an altruistic feeling of brotherhood and love for one’s fellow beings.

Addressing an interactive session on “Islamic teachings and medicine” here recently, Dr. Al-Bar dealt with diverse modern medical subjects, citing definitive and authentic rulings in an Islamic perspective. He emphasized that organ transplantation is a new method of treatment that can save many lives and improve the quality of life for many people. He appreciated the Saudi initiatives to encourage donation of organs such as presenting gifts and free air travel facility to organ donors.

An internal medicine consultant by profession with FRCP, Dr. Al-Bar is now director of medical ethics center at Jeddah’s International Medical Center, after his stint as Islamic medicine advisor at King Abdulaziz University. For more than three and a half decades, Dr. Al-Bar has been associated with leading Islamic jurisprudence organizations in the Muslim World and was instrumental in the issuance of fatwas (religious edicts) on key medical topics.

Since 1983, he has been actively associated with International Islamic Fiqh Academy, an affiliate of Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Islamic Fiqh Academy under the Muslim World League as well as with the Kuwait-based Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences. He has presented hundreds of research papers in international conferences and seminars, mainly on bioethics, and published articles in international medical journals. Next month, he is attending International Islamic Fiqh Academy’s Dubai conference, which is discussing “new problems in genetics.”

Referring to various aspects of organ transplant, Dr. Al-Bar said that the majority of Islamic scholars and jurists invoked the principle of priority of saving human lives. “A living donor can donate any of his organs, which are not vital to him, either to his relatives or anyone else but the doctor should ensure that he is donating by his own will. The donor should be an adult over the age of 18 and there should not be any pressure on him at all.”

“If a person gives his will in writing to donate his organs posthumously, his heirs have the power to execute it,” he said while emphasizing that Islam never allows selling or buying of organs in full or in part.

Al-Bar pointed out that organ transplant was known in one form or another even in prehistoric times. Sasruta Sanhita, an old Indian medical document written in 700 BC, described repairing defects of the nose and ears from the neighboring skin. “Arab surgeons were experts in tooth transplantation thousands of years ago as they practiced it in ancient Egypt and elsewhere. The Prophet (peace be upon him) transplanted organs of some of his companions — the arm of Muawath Bin Arafa and the hand of Habib Bin Yusuf during the Battle of Badr and replanted the eye of Qatada Bin Nu’man when he lost it during the Battle of Uhud.”

The Prophet (pbuh) venerated every human being whether alive or dead. He was furious when he saw breaking the bones of a dead, saying “the sin of breaking the bones of a dead man is equal to the sin of breaking the bones of a living person.” More than 1,000 years ago, bone transplantation was carried out by Al-Zahrawi, who specialized in curing disease by cauterization and pioneered techniques of neurosurgery. The bone to be implanted could be from the same person (autograft) or from the corpse of another person (allograft) or from an animal (xenograft).”

Al-Bar said Islamic jurists sanctioned blood transfusion even though blood is considered as unclean (najas). In 1959, Islamic jurists allowed corneal transplantation from a dead person. In 1978, Saudi Supreme Judiciary Council allowed this and sanctioned donation of organs of both the living and the dead persons.

Transplantation of organs of a brain-dead person had been a serious topic of discussion among Islamic jurists for several years, he said. “A historic decision, which equated brain death to cardiac and respiratory death, was passed with a majority of votes at the 3d International Conference of Islamic Jurists held in Amman in 1986. The conference agreed that the transplant is permissible after specialized doctors certified that the whole brain is completely damaged and stopped functioning.”

“The fourth conference held in Jeddah in 1988 rejected any trading or trafficking of organs and the sixth Jeddah conference in 1990 sanctioned transplantation of nerve tissues to treat ailments such as Parkinson’s,” he said noting that the number of organ transplant cases from brain-dead persons in the Kingdom crossed 4,000.

Replying to queries, Al-Bar said Islam allows abortion only on medical ground and not at all as part of birth control. Almost all Muslim countries allow abortion only for strict medical reasons. “Abortion is allowed only if continuation of pregnancy would endanger the life or health of the expectant mother or if there is proven serious congenital anomalies in the fetus. However, in such cases, abortion should be carried out before 120 days from the start of conception as it is considered the time of ensoulment; and such a decision should be agreed upon by three specialist physicians,” he said while quoting the fatwa of Islamic Fiqh Academy of Makkah.

Dr. Al-Bar emphasized that abortion after this period is a crime because it constitutes an offense against a living being. Abortions to avoid economic hardships are also not condoned by Islamic jurists. He said that abortion is permissible in the event of rape if it has been proved and that should be performed as early as possible, ideally in the first 40 days of pregnancy.

Dr. Al-Bar replied to several questions from the elite audience, who represented a cross section of Arab and Indian communities, with definitive answers from the Islamic point of view. On question of employing assisted reproductive technology (ART), he said: “In Islamic Sunni law, all ARTs are allowed, provided that the source of the sperm, ovum and uterus comes from a legally married couple during the span of their marriage, but involvement of a third person is not allowed.”

Modern medical science was able to discover some of the realities pertaining to the creation of human being only in recent years though Muslim scientists like Ibn Qayyim had discovered these through their researches based on teachings of the Holy Qur’an nearly 700 years ago, he said while citing an example: “If you prick the fetus, it will have perception of the pain as a hallmark of human life.”

The Goodwill Global Initiative (GGI), in association with Jeddah National Hospital (JNH), organized the event as part of its Bimonthly Talk Series titled “Ib(f)tikar: A platform for intellectual discourse.”

On behalf of V.P. Mohammed Ali, chairman and managing director of JNH, Vice Chairman of JNH Ali Mohammed Ali, inaugurated the event. Dr. M.S. Karimuddin, a pediatrics specialist, and Dr. Jemshith Ahmed, vice president of Abeer Medical Group, felicitated Dr. Al-Bar, who has authored more than 90 books on a wide variety of subjects mainly modern medical topics.

GGI President Dr. Ismail Maritheri of King Abdulaziz University presided over the function in which General Secretary Hassan Cheruppa welcomed the gathering and Program Chief Coordinator Musthafa Vakkaloor proposed vote of thanks. Abdullah Mateen Osmani, recited a few verses from the Holy Qur’an. Earlier, Dr. Amina Mohammed Ali, director of JNH academic and training center, received Dr. Al-Bar with presenting a bouquet while Ali Mohammed Ali presented a memento.


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