End-of-life care ethical decision-making: Shiite scholars' views

Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine 7 (1) (2015)
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Recent advances in life-sustaining treatments and technologies, have given rise to newly-emerged, critical and sometimes, controversial questions regarding different aspects of end-of-life decision-making and care. Since religious values are among the most influential factors in these decisions, the present study aimed to examine the Islamic scholars' views on end-of-life care. A structured interview based on six main questions on ethical decision-making in end-of-life care was conducted with eight Shiite experts in Islamic studies, and was analyzed through deductive content analysis. Analysis revealed certain points in Islamic views on the definition of death and the persons making decisions about end-of-life care. According to the participants, in addition to conventional criteria such as absence of heartbeat and respiration, the irreversible cessation of human voluntary acts are considered to be the criteria in establishing death. The participants also recognized physicians as the main authorities in verifying signs of death. Furthermore, it was emphasized that life preservation and continuation of care must be sensible, and the patient can request not to have death-prolonging procedures started or continued. In the view of participants, patient's autonomy cannot be the sole basis for all measures, but Islamic ethical and jurisprudential principles should be relied upon to make correct and sensible decisions whether to continue or stop terminal patients' care. Final decisions should be made by a team of experts, and physicians must be at the center of such a team. Finally, we suggest that a guideline in keeping with Islamic norms on human life and death, purpose of life, God's will, boundaries of man's authority, and the physician's ethical duties and obligations should be developed.



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