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Inside the Ethics Committee 2013: End of life and Islam

Updated Friday, 9th August 2013

The next case for the Ethics Committee balances religious beliefs against a bleak prognosis.

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Thursday, 15th August 2013 09:00 - BBC Radio 4

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ICU monitor, showing vital signs of a patient Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Goran Bogicevic | Dreamstime.com The Open University and BBC Radio 4 team up again for Inside The Ethics Committee, where Joan Bakewell explores the decisions taken in real medical cases.

This week, Mr Khan is brought into A&E with a cardiac arrest and has emergency surgery to clear a blockage in his coronary artery. He's transferred to intensive care with multi-organ failure, his lungs, heart and kidneys supported by machines and medication.

Mr Khan is seventy five and his doctors expect him to need intensive care for about ten days. But he is slow to improve and, over the coming weeks, he has repeated lung infections and needs almost constant support for his organs.

The anticipated brief stay in intensive care turns to weeks, then months. As time goes by, it becomes clear to the team that Mr Khan is unable to survive without intensive care - removing even small amounts of support for his organs leaves him unable to cope.

After six months, the medical team are convinced that Mr Khan has little chance of recovery. He is severely wasted and all the procedures they have to put him through, to keep him alive, are causing him considerable suffering. The team feel they should now limit his treatment and enable him to have a dignified death.

Mr Khan is now so weak and confused that he is not able to communicate, so the team discuss this with the family. They find the idea of limiting treatment very difficult. Like Mr Khan, they are devout Muslim and believe that everything should be done to preserve life. They reason that if there are treatments and machines that might help Mr Khan the team should use them, and then leave it in God's hands to see if they succeed or fail.

As Mr Khan's life hangs in the balance, should the team keep treating him, so prolonging his suffering, or limit his treatment and enable him to have a comfortable and dignified death?

 

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