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How can we improve the rate of autopsies among Muslims?

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 02 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:310
  1. Mudher Al-Adnani, specialist registrar (,
  2. Irene Scheimberg, consultant paediatric pathologist
  1. Department of Histopathology, Institute of Pathology, The Royal London Hospital, London

    Among Muslim people in Britain the uptake of autopsies in general, and perinatal and paediatric autopsies in particular, is low. Family members may decline consent for an autopsy for several reasons: they believe that Islam doesn't allow autopsy; they see no need for an autopsy because of their belief that death is God's will; advances in medical knowledge mean that everything is already known about the case and hence an autopsy isn't necessary; they fear that the body will be desecrated; and they worry that an autopsy will prevent the body from being buried as soon as possible, an Islamic requirement. Are these reasons justified?

    Islamic law is derived from three sources: the Koran, the Sunnah—which includes the teachings, whether by word or deed, of Mohammed—and ijtihad, the process of deductive logic. The laws set by the Koran and Sunnah are obligatory for all Muslims and cannot be disputed. Ijtihad opinion is formulated by a single scholar or group of scholars who reach a consensus. The ruling, called a fatwa, is not binding. It can be right or wrong and can be debated and modified, so a range of views on a given question is possible.

    Although death is …

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