Q: What is the Islamic view of a sick person or a close family member granting permission to a doctor "to pull the plug" on the sick person, who, according to the medical experts, is being kept alive mainly through a life-support machine?

A: This question is one of ijtihaad. Based on my research into the matter, I advise the following: If the consensus of the medical specialists on the matter is that the sick person is beyond hope, and the artificial means are the sole source of support, we may advise the "pulling of the plug" and make the following du'a: "Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raajioon."

For in Surah al Baqarah, it says that the successful ones are those who, if a calamity befalls them, say the mentioned du'a. One may also say, based on the hadith reported by Anas in Bukhari and Muslim: "O Allah, if life be better for (name of person) keep him/her alive, and if death be better, then cause it by your mercy."

Of course we can add other things such as "and let the pain be little, and let (name of person) die as a Muslimů" Then, Inshaa' Allah, we may pull the plug. Thus we will, after having made the du'a, shown our tawakkul, that is to say, entrusting our affairs to Allah (s.w.t). I do not wish to overstate on the subject, but one reason for my taking the madhhab I take in this matter is because Allah (s.w.t) says: "And I have not created jinn and man except to worship me." We also know that man likes to let others benefit from his being present in the world, i.e. for beneficial social interaction with his/her fellow human beings.

In a situation where the specialists have ruled out any tenable likelihood of recovery to serve Allah (s.w.t) or fellow humans, and where the staying on life-support machines in fact represents a hardship on the financial resources of the family or state, and when based on the extent of brain damage, the individual will be a functional vegetable, and then also using the rule, "calamity or affliction must be excised," we do what seems to be best - leave the matter with Allah (s.w.t) after pulling the plug. A doctor, regardless of his personal opinion on the matter, may explain that there is a major difference between "euthanasia" and "pulling the plug." Whereas the former involves the giving of some pathogenic element and is in fact a type of murder, the latter on the other hand is merely the leaving of matters in the hands of Allah. And Allah knows best.

Posted November 3, 1998. This question and answer was printed in the November 1994 issue of the Voice of Islam newsletter. (This newsletter is published by the Islamic Society of the Washington Area).