Muslim Teaching and Family Case

Hospice of the Comforter Ethics Committee
Hospice of the Comforter
February 12, 2013

(November 21, 2011)

Muslim Teaching and Family Case: Members of a hospice team presented a case of a Muslim patient, whose family was keeping him from knowledge of his terminal status. The patient was asking, “why am I getting weaker and no one is telling me anything?” The case involved the ethical principles of the autonomy of the family and the veracity of the hospice team. The family asked hospice staff not to let him know that he was dying. The team was informed that the family wanted their father to ask for the forgiveness of God before he knows that he is dying. According to their understanding of Muslim teaching a person can only be forgiven if one seeks forgiveness before knowing about the imminence of death.

Discussion: The ethics committee was joined by members of the hospice team and Imam Abdurrahman Sykes, a Muslim spiritual leader. Imam Sykes consulted with other Muslim leaders, who concluded that the family members were misunderstanding Muslim teaching concerning forgiveness and death. Repentance is denied only at the very last minutes of life, when the spirit is exiting the body. Thus, repentance is encouraged at any time before the “gurgling” at the end of life. The ethics committee, the hospice team and Imam Sykes had a stimulating and informative conversation about these matters.

Outcomes: The medical director of the hospice team conveyed the above information to the family. Now the hospice team can answer questions coming from the patient concerning his medical condition and prognosis. The hospice team was appreciative of this outcome and the opportunity for interaction and education through the ethics committee meeting. Imam Sykes also expressed his appreciation of the process and said that he would be glad to help with any other questions or concerns involving Muslim patients and family members.

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