CAIRO - Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Mohamed Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s oldest Islamic institution and the country’s top Muslim authority, whipped up a storm after issuing a fatwa on organ transplants in the midst of a Cairo conference on the subject in mid-March. The fatwa, or religious edict, permits harvesting organs for human transplantation from executed convicts with or without their approval nor notification to their families.
Both clerics and human-rights activists vigorously rejected the fatwa. Fadia Abu Shaba, a professor of law at Cairo’s National Centre for Social and Criminal Research said, “This fatwa is unacceptable because it tramples on the dignity of the deceased and robs them of a basic right.” She told Gulf News, “It is grounded in a spurious law enacted in 2003 which permitted the harvesting of corneas from death row convicts following their executions. This broadening” [of the interpretation] “turns the body of an execution victim into public property. It is a travesty, particularly when conducted without the approval of the subject or his family."
Tantawi's fatwa was guaranteed to raise hackles in Egypt. The World Health Organisation cited Egypt as one of the top six countries involved in organ trafficking and has criticised the government for not doing more to end what it describes as “transplant tourism.” The Egyptian parliament is expected to begin debating the controversial organ transplant bill soon.
The MEMRI blog noted that Tantawi had been forced to amend his pronouncement, limiting the fatwa to “persons sentenced to death for crimes of premeditated murder or violation of personal sanctity”. That did nothing to pacify Muslim scholar Mustafa Al-Shaqa who said, “This fatwa is a disgrace. It permits the violation of the personal sanctity of an execution victim, and that is outlawed by Islam.” He added, “Neither is it rational, because it prescribes a double penalty on the person convicted. Only a living person can donate their organs.”
[AP, Gulf News, MEMRI blog]