Autopsy for educational purposes

Q 4: We hope that you will explain to us the Islamic ruling regarding medical students who dissect the corpses of the dead during their study. They examine the `Awrah (parts of the body that must be covered in public) of women or part of it, claiming that this is part of learning medicine and is necessary for a doctor in order to be fully aware of the diseases of women. As a result, the corpses of Muslim women fall under the mercy of Christian and other non-Muslim doctors.

A: Firstly: The Council of Senior Scholars in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has issued a decree regarding autopsy. Following is an abstract of it:The subject in question evidently has three categories: First: Autopsy for the purpose of investigation during criminal proceedings. Second: Autopsy for checking whether death is caused by any epidemic diseases so that the necessary future protective precautions may be taken. Third: Autopsy for educational purposes, i.e. learning or teaching.After exchanging opinions, thorough discussion and studying the above-referred-to research submitted by the Committee, the Council decided the following: (Part No. 25; Page No. 94) With regard to the first and second categories, the Council deems them permissible in order to achieve and maximize many interests in the fields of security, justice, and protecting the community from epidemic diseases. In fact, the evil of violating the sanctity of a dead body is insignificant compared to the great public interest secured by this procedure.Hence, the Council agreed by consensus on the permissibility of dissecting a corpse for these two purposes, whether the corpse belongs to a person who is inviolable (i.e. Not subject to capital punishment) or not.As for the third category, which is autopsy for educational purposes, it should be known that the Shari`ah (Islamic law) aims to realize and maximize interests and avoid and minimize evils by permitting the lesser of two evils in order to repel the more detrimental of them, and adopting the interest that is of more likely benefit in case two interests clash. Dissecting animals does not dispense with the need to dissect human beings, which fulfills numerous advantages as shown by scientific development in different fields of medicine. Therefore, the Council deems it generally permissible to dissect the corpse of human beings. However, the care of the Shari`ah for the dignity of a Muslim while dead is the same as when alive, based on the Hadith related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah on the authority of `Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Breaking a deceased person's bone is akin to breaking it when alive. Since dissection involves humiliation of the dignity of the dead while the need for this is inexistent due to the availability of corpses of persons subject to capital punishment, (Part No. 25; Page No. 95) the Council views that dissection should be restricted to the corpses of such people and the corpses of inviolable people avoided, in view of what is mentioned.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions. The Council of Senior Scholars.Secondly: If there is a female doctor who can examine the female patient medically, it is not permissible for a male doctor to do so. But if this is not possible and there is a need that the female patient be examined, it is permissible for a male Muslim doctor to examine and uncover as much as is necessary from her `Awrah in order to identify the disease. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with examining a woman medically for educational purposes and identifying the common illnesses of women and how to treat them, provided the corpse is of a deceased woman who is neither Muslim nor inviolable (not subject to capital punishment), in the light of the decree referred to.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.