At present our father is on a life support machine in the hospital. Doctors say that if he is taken out of it there is a high possibility that he may die. What should we do? An Imam over here in New York say that if anyone of the family members takes it out and the father dies then that individual will be responsible for the father’s death. Is this true? Please guide us on this matter.
The life support machine is a form of medication and should be treated as such. Just as medicine can ‘help’ and ‘cannot help’ it is the same with life support machines.
Sometimes even after taking medicine a person dies, similarly even after using the life support machine death can occur: life and death are solely in the hands of Allah. Most of the time upon immediate removal of the life support machine death does not occur immediately which means that there is still life in the body and the person continues to live.
It can be asked of the doctor whether he thinks that normal health can be restored or not. If it would be restored then the life support machine can continue until that time. It is just the same as using a medication until the patient recovers.
If he says no, then it can be removed and no one will be responsible for the death of the person since his organs have failed to function properly which causes his death. It’s the same as a heart attack, kidney failure, etc. causing a death to occur. Obviously it is not on the same degree as giving an injection to cause death or harm to the body which is totally prohibited.
In general, life support machines can be removed for the following reasons:
It is not firmly established that it is a definite cause for prolongation of life.
Even with its presence there can be a heart attack or some other reason which can cause death.
It is not firmly established that by its removal a person will die. There are many cases where people have lived for many years even after the life support machine was taken off from them.
The fact that a person has been placed on a life support machine indicates that his organs have failed which can cause death. We are not ordered by Allah to save him from death and restore his organs for this is not in our hands. We are however requested to use medication for sickness. However medication itself is neither a firm cure for sickness nor a saver of life because death can occur even after medication is taken.
In a case where the heart has failed or the kidneys have failed it is not upon a person to purchase a heart or kidneys and then do a transplant, although there is a possibility of prolongation of life by doing so. Similarly if one or more organs have failed it is not upon a person to ensure that life continues by attaching to the person a life support machine.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan