Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy vol:14 issue:1 pages:29-41
Ever since the start of the 20th century, a growing interest and importance of studying fatwas can be noted, with a focus on Arabic printed fatwas (Wokoeck, 2009). The scholarly study of end-of-life ethics in these fatwas is a very recent feature, taking a first start in the 1980’s (Anees, 1984; Rispler-Chaim, 1993). Since the past two decades, we have witnessed the emergence of a multitude of English fatwas that can easily be consulted through the Internet (‘e-fatwas’), providing Muslims worldwide with a form of Islamic normative guidance on a huge variety of topics. Although English online fatwas do provide guidance for Muslims and Muslim minorities worldwide on a myriad of topics including end-of-life issues, they have hardly been studied. This study analyses Islamic views on (non-)voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide as expressed in English Sunni fatwas published on independent – i.e. not created by established organisations – Islamic websites. We use Tyan’s definition of a fatwa to distinguish between fatwas and other types of texts offering Islamic guidance through the Internet. The study of e-fatwas is framed in the context of Bunt’s typology of Cyber Islamic Environments (Bunt, 2009) and in the framework of Roy’s view on the virtual umma (Roy, 2002). ‘(Non-)voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide’ are defined using Broeckaert’s conceptual framework on treatment decisions at the end of life (Broeckaert, 2008). We analysed 32 English Sunni e-fatwas. All of the e-fatwas discussed here firmly speak out against every form of active termination of life. They often bear the same structure, basing themselves solely on Quranic verses and prophetic traditions, leaving aside classical jurisprudential discussions on the subject. In this respect they share the characteristics central in Roy’s typology of the fatwa in the virtual umma. On the level of content, they are in line with the international literature on Islamic end-of-life ethics. English Sunni e-fatwas make up an influential and therefore important developing body of Islamic orthodox normative authority on end-of-life ethics that is still open for further research.