Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 117–131 | Cite as

The degree of certainty in brain death: probability in clinical and Islamic legal discourse

  • Faisal QaziEmail author
  • Joshua C. Ewell
  • Ayla Munawar
  • Usman Asrar
  • Nadir Khan


The University of Michigan conference “Where Religion, Policy, and Bioethics Meet: An Interdisciplinary Conference on Islamic Bioethics and End-of-Life Care” in April 2011 addressed the issue of brain death as the prototype for a discourse that would reflect the emergence of Islamic bioethics as a formal field of study. In considering the issue of brain death, various Muslim legal experts have raised concerns over the lack of certainty in the scientific criteria as applied to the definition and diagnosis of brain death by the medical community. In contrast, the medical community at large has not required absolute certainty in its process, but has sought to eliminate doubt through cumulative diagnostic modalities and supportive scientific evidence. This has recently become a principal model, with increased interest in data analysis and evidence-based medicine with the intent to analyze and ultimately improve outcomes. Islamic law has also long employed a systematic methodology with the goal of eliminating doubt from rulings regarding the question of certainty. While ample criticism of the scientific criteria of brain death (Harvard criteria) by traditional legal sources now exists, an analysis of the legal process in assessing brain death, geared toward informing the clinician’s perspective on the issue, is lacking. In this article, we explore the role of certainty in the diagnostic modalities used to establish diagnoses of brain death in current medical practice. We further examine the Islamic jurisprudential approach vis-à-vis the concept of certainty (yaqīn). Finally, we contrast the two at times divergent philosophies and consider what each perspective may contribute to the global discourse on brain death, understanding that the interdependence that exists between the theological, juridical, ethical, and medical/scientific fields necessitates an open discussion and active collaboration between all parties. We hope that this article serves to continue the discourse that was successfully begun by this initial interdisciplinary endeavor at the University of Michigan.


Brain death Personhood Apnea test Fiqh Zann Ijtihad 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Faisal Qazi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joshua C. Ewell
    • 2
  • Ayla Munawar
    • 2
  • Usman Asrar
    • 3
  • Nadir Khan
    • 3
  1. 1.Claremont Lincoln UniversityPomonaUSA
  2. 2.Western University of Health SciencesPomonaUSA
  3. 3.PomonaUSA

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