Saudi Arabia, as many other countries, continues to struggle with the question of when a person dies. According to a fatwa issued in 1988—and still operative—brain death signals the end of a life. A person whose brain no longer demonstrates brain activity beyond the most primitive, is assumed to be dead and can be taken off of life support.
Now, according to Arab News, a panel of experts is seeking to revise that, instead making heart activity the determinative. If a person’s heart still beats, without assistance, then the person is still alive. They call for a new fatwa to embrace this ‘new understanding’. Now, I’m aware of religious controversy over ‘brain’ v. ‘heart’ death; here’s a discussion of it from the point of Jewish law. The US case of Terri Schiavo, which ended in 2005, shows that there is dispute within Christian circles as well.
Now, I’m all for debate on this topic. There is serious scientific, medical discussion over just when a person dies. (See this piece from the New England Journal of Medicine.) The arguments raised in the Journal article, though, seem very different from those being made here.
Abdulgader said these electromagnetic waves are similar to airwaves. “What do you do when you turn on your television or radio. You basically try to catch a certain frequency and when that is matched there is communication — the radio and the television come alive. The same is the case with our heart waves. When it matches a certain frequency it is able to communicate with the higher force in life,” he said.
This sound a little woo-woo to me. ‘Heart waves’? Really? ‘A halo of light around the heart while it is beating.’ Really? I’m not sure that taking 7th C. understanding of physiology is a sound step, either.
I’d like to see more discussion of the issue, but I think it gravely premature to change the current ruling on the issue.
Expert calls for new fatwa on brain dead
SIRAJ WAHAB | ARAB NEWS
AL-HASA: A leading Saudi medical expert, known in the global scientific community for his pioneering research in cardiology, has called on the Kingdom’s Islamic scholars to revise their ruling on terminating the life of a person who is “clinically dead” or “brain dead.”
“As long as a patient’s heart is beating there is no reason for us to take him or her off the ventilator,” said Dr. Abdullah A. Abdulgader, director of the Prince Sultan Cardiac Center in Al-Hasa.
Abdulgader said his view is based on research carried out by top cardiologists who are attending a three-day international conference on advanced cardiac sciences in this historic Saudi city.
“Everyone who is attending this conference, including professor Franz Halberg of the University of Minnesota and Dr. Rollin McCraty of California’s Institute of Heartmath, believes that the heart is where life is. As long as the heart is functioning a person should be considered as being alive. All these experts are of the unanimous view that the heart, not the brain, is the king of organs,” he said. “And all of them are basing their judgment on impeccable research.”