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Religion and Medicine

The relationship between religion and medicine:

Talking about Medicine and religion can seem at first to be talking about two unrelated issues. But such misconception would soon give way when we understand that religion came to serve man, and that the medicine is the science that aims at serving man too. Here we have to add that religion is not only a spiritual experiment that is detached from reality, or can be isolated away from man and life, as some would indicate when they describe religion as a spiritual state or when they describe religious scholars as spiritual leaders.

There is something very fundamental that we should understand: Religion came to make the life of man better. life is not the absolutist concept that makes man swim in vacuum. It came to serve man, as a mind, heart and body, Religion did not deny the body which is a fact. That is why we talk about a spirit that interacts with the body, giving it its feelings and emotions, and inspiring value even towards its needs.

The Islamic Message:

It is evident that Islam is concerned with the body as part of his concern with life, especially that it possess a universal view about the nature of life; its beginning and what links this beginning to the end. Islam concentrates in many of its rulings on preserving the beginning of life and then on the movement of life from its beginning to the end…

Therefore, we reckon that the message of Islam is the same of that of medicine; which is to protect life. If Islam does not stop here and goes beyond this issue to deal with political or social issues, it stays with life and medicine, even when it calls for war, peace, or for living a normal life.

Between jurisprudence and science:

In fact, medicine came to serve man, and not vice-versa. Similarly religion came to serve man, and man did not come to serve religion. Religion is not something we serve. It is something we live, while medicine is not an idol to glorify. It is something we make use of in our life.

There is another point that has to do with the need of Islamic rulings to medicine. Medicine determines the subject of these rulings. In issues of life or death, we need science to know how much a ruling is applicable on a certain subject.

Thus, medicine might serve as a reference for religion in related issues. This makes us feel a need for an organic relationship between jurisprudence in medical and scientific issues and the science of medicine. Jurists should not issue rulings in subjects they do not medically understand, while doctors should not rule in things they do not know what the Islamic law says about.

Therefore, those who learn medicine and practice it, are doing so for man's sake; to keep him away from pain and from death whose time has not arrived yet. On the other hand, being religious means being humanitarian. Religion is not cold and rigid. It is living with God, which means serving fellow human beings: "All creations are God's children, and Allah loves most those who serve best His children.”

In the light of this, we deal with, the issue of ethics. Ethics might be discussed from the point of view of philosophy and sociology…. Ethics also can be divided according to its fields. Hence we might have political, social and economic ethics… Here we are dealing with medical ethics. But we want to say first that ethics is but one entity that might diversify in details: It can be summarized in living your humanity in that of the other, his mind is yours, his heart and emotions are yours. Probably the best way to summarize the question of ethics is the saying of the Prophet(p.) “No one of you will believe until he loves for the other what he loves for himself and hates for him what he hates for himself”.

Notice this association between belief and love of others, in such a way that your become the other.

Imam Ali (a.s.) says in his will: “My son: Make yourself a balance between you and others, love for them what you love for yourself and hate what you hate for yourself.” This altruism will turn love of one's self which is a kind of selfishness that drives man to develop himself into its opposite. To love yourself is to love the other in you. To think that you are not living alone, but with the other. There is in the entire no such equation as I not the other but always I and the other. The other is existing before you. He is existing in your life. Not to recognize the other does not conform with reality.

You have to recognize him for no human can cancel the other. He can downsize him but never cancel him. Nobody can cancel you if you do not cancel yourself.

Medicine is a message and not a profession:

In the light of this, it is clear that we cannot separate ethics in one field form the ethics of other fields, for although the details are different but the principles are the same.

Therefore, the physician has to save the patient no matter how grave his illness may be. He has to employ all his knowledge and experience to help him and make every possible effort to save him. This is what epitomizes his responsibility in life.

As a doctor you do not have the right to think that you have a profession. You have to think that you are carrying a Message.

Your humanism lies in embracing that of your patient, “for if anyone slew a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

A doctor – human being, is responsible, being equipped with some of the means of protecting life, for life, through his responsibility of the humanism in the others, He is responsible also for the element of humanitarianism inside him, since he is responsible for himself.

Therefore, to be a doctor means in ethics, that you should live medicine as a message and not as a profession. And when you carry a message it should reflect itself in all your medical practices.

Medicine is similar to politics. Just as politics is a message, to facilitate the people's needs and run their affairs, medicine aims at the same thing, to serve the people and help them attaining their errands.

The patient's confidentiality:

It is natural for a doctor to learn about the secrets of his patience and the circumstances that led to his illness, or the social and individual negative aspects that are associated with his sickness...

All this is a form of trust, and from the point the view of humanitarian ethics, which is also the religious ethics, are forms of trust that ought to be respected and hence kept secret. Nobody is allowed to spread the secret of any human being in any issue, unless he is talking about him in what is good as some of the Prophet's traditions state.

Moreover, the issue of keeping secrets is not confined to medicine only.

In politics too, there are some secrets you have to keep from the society and even from your family. Telling a secret might kill people more than weapons would. Thus, this ethical norm is not confined to medicine.

It is an issue related to all human sciences. The mentality of the one that only thinks of personal gain has no place here, since we have to adopt the mentality of carrying a message.

As to the issue of whether the physician should tell his patient what his illness is, whether his case may be critical or not, it is not prohibited to do so in principle. But the doctor has to be humanitarian, and either implies or he might even be straight forward but in a way that does not make the patient lose hope. But on the other hand, when the family of the patient state as a condition that the hospital or the doctor should not tell the patient about his condition, the doctor has to keep his commitment, but this is due to the necessity of complying with the stipulations of the contract and not from the ethical point of view.

That is why we say that is permissible and sometimes even preferable not to give the patient any false hope, for he could miss the opportunity of doing many things that would be of benefit both to himself and the people. Therefore, from the point of view of both ethics and the Islamic law, it is not prohibited to tell the patient about his condition, unless it would hasten his death. Moreover, one has to take into consideration the ability of the patient to deal with the truth. This might need either a psychiatrist or the patient's family to assess the circumstances.

Abiding by the physician's orders:

As for abiding by the doctor's orders, especially those pertaining to the performing of religious duties, even if the patient is not sure about how religious the doctor is, the diagnosis of the doctor if he is trustworthy and experienced could be a legal (Shariah) excuse. But even if the doctor is not trusted and the patient doubts that his warning that fasting would harm him, the patient has in this case too not to fast, since the issue is the fear of being harmed and not the harm itself, but if what the doctor says does not make the patient afraid of being harmed, then he should not break his fast.

Going to a doctor of the opposite sex:

As for a female patient going to a male doctor, it is permitted in case there is no female doctor of the required specialization. Some jurists have considered it also permissible if the male doctor is more lenient than the female doctor.

As for the female nurse or doctor that has to touch male patients, it is not permissible, if there is no need to, as in the presence of a male physician or nurse. Moreover, it would be permitted if the women wear gloves, and even without wearing gloves if there is a need and no male doctor is available, but we would like our female nurses to work in places where they can keep their religious commitments.

A male doctor might have sometimes to shake hands with foreign women, especially in the West where it is considered part of the job requirements since he is required to receive his patient in the best possible manner. Moreover, after the handshake he will have to examine her entire body. In this case it is permissible if not shaking hands will cause great harm, but if the doctor can wear gloves, then he has to do so, even if they were plastic ones.

A medical student who has to look at the private parts (Awra ), arousing the possibility of some satanic ideas… this student should look at these organs as a scientist who wants to learn the characteristics and the symptoms, and not that of a person seeking pleasure. If the look leads to satanic ideas it will be impermissible, especially if it leads to committing an impermissible act (haram).

Moreover, sometimes the harm could be related to other aspects, for example: paying a fee would not be affordable for the female doctor, in this case it is permissible to resort to a male doctor, but if the fee is affordable then she has to consult a female doctor.

Medication trade:

As for medications, there are many details related to trading in medications as when the doctor prescribes additional medications because he has signed a contract with those who trade with certain medications, In this case, I have to say without going into details and providing other examples that are well known to those whom medicine is their trade, that this is unethical, because you have to be ethical to be humanitarian and seek to serve other human beings.

Man's lost dignity:

One interesting points, that was raised by several people in view of the new scientific discoveries, is Man's dignity, that the Quran has confirmed when it said, that "We have honored the children of Adam”.

There are many today who believe that what science has discovered in how life starts is demeaning, since it is demeaning to produce man in a factory, or interfere in his genes, or improve something in his structure. But we say what has all this to do with man's dignity, Man's dignity is to give him his freedom, and open his mind and heart on what he loves, and help him to bear his responsibility towards himself and the others…

But to take a step in the line of producing a human being has nothing to do with man's dignity. For what is the difference between making man in the natural way of reproduction and between producing him while you are only thinking about satisfying your desires, whom some people might find demeaning to the new life produced.

This is the same as producing man in a laboratory. Honoring a man does not have anything to do with how he was produced, but with how to treat him once he is produced.