HEC Forum

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 25-45

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Brain-Dead Patients are not Cadavers: The Need to Revise the Definition of Death in Muslim Communities

  • Mohamed Y. RadyAffiliated withDepartment of Critical Care, Mayo Clinic Hospital Email author 
  • , Joseph L. VerheijdeAffiliated withDepartment of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic


The utilitarian construct of two alternative criteria of human death increases the supply of transplantable organs at the end of life. Neither the neurological criterion (heart-beating donation) nor the circulatory criterion (non-heart-beating donation) is grounded in scientific evidence but based on philosophical reasoning. A utilitarian death definition can have unintended consequences for dying Muslim patients: (1) the expedited process of determining death for retrieval of transplantable organs can lead to diagnostic errors, (2) the equivalence of brain death with human death may be incorrect, and (3) end-of-life religious values and traditional rituals may be sacrificed. Therefore, it is imperative to reevaluate the two different types and criteria of death introduced by the Resolution (Fatwa) of the Council of Islamic Jurisprudence on Resuscitation Apparatus in 1986. Although we recognize that this Fatwa was based on best scientific evidence available at that time, more recent evidence shows that it rests on outdated knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon of human death. We recommend redefining death in Islam to reaffirm the singularity of this biological phenomenon as revealed in the Quran 14 centuries ago.


Brain death Cardiac death End-of-life care Intensive care Islam Legal death Organ donation Muslim communities