Opting out of Saving a Life: Organ Donation in Shi’i Jurisprudence

Opting out of Saving a Life: Organ Donation in Shi’i Jurisprudence | 28th March 2019 | AMI Research Seminar

In light of the imminent transition towards a system of ‘deemed consent’ in England, according to which there is a presumption that everyone is willing to donate their organs, Muslims are faced with the question of whether they want to opt out of saving, potentially, several lives. AMI graduate, Mahdiyah Abdul-Hussain, presented her research on organ donation after death in Shi’i jurisprudence, focusing on the principal areas that cause contention and the differences in opinions of senior jurists.

Following death, the retrieval of organs is considered to be a violation of the sanctity of the deceased in accordance with narrations prohibiting the mutilation of a corpse. However, the rule of arranging obligations in accordance with their importance means that the duty to preserve life takes precedence. The minority opinion takes into consideration the context of the prohibition of mutilation and restricts it to actions done with the intent of causing harm or humiliation. According to this view, harvesting organs in a clinical setting where due respect is given to the deceased does not constitute mutilation.  Two aspects that continue to be problematic pertain to the definition of death and the religion of the recipient. The Quran and narrations do not provide a definition of death, resulting in disparity amongst Shi’i jurists regarding the procurement of organs from brain dead people who are at present the principal source of deceased organ donors. The majority position is that organs can only be donated after death when required by another Muslim. This is both legally and ethically problematic for Muslims living in the UK.


AMI graduate, Mahdiyah Abdul-Hussain, completed her Masters by Research on the permissibility of organ donation in Shi’i jurisprudence at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has a background in both Shi’i jurisprudence and secular law, obtaining an LLM from the University of Birmingham in Medical Law and Bioethics.

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