Dr. Ayman Shabana, a faculty member at the Georgetown University in Qatar, talks about the participation of QF initiative in a joint seminar on Religion and Medical Ethics: Palliative Care and the Mental Health of the Elderly in Rome.
A symposium held by the World Innovation Summit for Health highlighted the mental health of the elderly from an Islamic point of view. Held under the title Religion and Medical Ethics: Palliative Care and Mental Health of the Elderly, the symposium, held in December 2019 in Rome, examined the role of religious and spiritual values in improving the quality of life of patients, and the importance of providing greater support for families and society, for economic, social, psychological reasons.
Dr. Ayman Shabana, a faculty member at Georgetown University in Qatar, and an expert in medical ethics in Islam, pointed out that palliative care for the elderly has emerged as a controversial issue due to the importance of improving the quality of life of the elderly, in parallel with the economic burdens, especially with regard to the health care they need and the possibility of aligning them with the needs of children and youth.
Dr. Shabana explained that during the conference, experts in the fields of medicine, medical ethics and religions from different countries of the world discussed various points of view regarding palliative care, with the aim of bringing together various opinions through dialogue to find solutions to challenges related to how to deal with elderly patients.
The doctor pointed out that there are two contradictory trends about caring for the elderly. The first is that the elderly represent a great asset to human societies, in terms of experiences, wisdom and contributions they made in their lives towards their society.
As for the second trend, Dr. Shabana mentioned that it is the least sympathetic to this societal group, where some view the elderly from an economic and medical point of view. Therefore, they call on some countries to narrow the health options available to the elderly.
Islamic principles honor the elderly and enhance their position in society.
He noted that as a part of the World Innovation Summit for Health delegation, he defended the first trend in the lectures he delivered at the Vatican.
In the lecture, he highlighted the position of Islam on the issue of palliative care for the elderly, saying, “Islamic principles honor the elderly and enhance their position in society. Islamic heritage is rich in resources that focus on the importance of caring for this societal group, starting from their important role in society. These religious sources include many human values such as compassion, mercy and gratitude which is a very important component.
“Religious texts talk about the different stages of life a person is going through; the transition from childhood to adolescence, and maturity, and then old age. Each of these stages have specific characteristics, duties, responsibilities and specific rights, and therefore, it is necessary to respect this cycle of life that ends with the fact that death is in the hands of God Almighty and not in the hands of human beings,” Dr. Shabana said.
What we advocated is to motivate people to do what enhances life, not what ends it.
“This comprehensive view of the cycle of life from an Islamic point of view is what we highlighted in the conference. In this context, we focused on the most important values protected by Islamic law, including ensuring a balanced continuity of life. This included the right to life and not the right to die, and it related to other issues such as abortion, suicide, etc. What we advocated is to motivate people to do what enhances life, not what ends it,” the doctor added.
Bridge between religion and science
On the conference’s role in building bridges between ethics and religious principles and science, Dr. Shabana affirmed that ethics and religion ask the same existential questions facing any human being, including the question of life and death, good and bad, and others. As for science, it is a field looking at human nature away from values.
“There is general concern about what is called today as secular science which does not take into account moral and religious values,” he said. “This may result in severe consequences, such as if scientists conduct experiments that threaten human existence.
“The conference sought to demonstrate the importance of building bridges between science and ethics, so that ethics is adopted as a reference that prevents science from descending to the level of human self-destruction.”
Challenges of Arab society
Dr. Shabana also explained that although Qatar is part of an Arab and Islamic society that remains attached to the family, the results of a highly globalized society and the increase in communication and interaction between different societies left its impact on the lifestyle of people, who face greater economic challenges, which in turn affect the amount of time that is devoted to caring for others – among them are the elderly.
Dr. Shabana said that this is a clear indication that a return to moral and religious values becomes essential so that we do not reach unfair and immoral options.
Regarding what are known as suicides in the Islamic and Arab world, Dr. Shabana stressed that it is certain that such cases are not common, but they exist and are difficult to monitor because they’re considered as taboo. He noted how these conditions need to be addressed before they become more prevalent.
He called for efforts to achieve this goal, through cooperation between governments, societies and individuals, so that each side plays its role, such as caring for elderly family members; and civil society innovates new ideas and projects that enhance ethical values related to caring for the elderly.
He pointed out that the State of Qatar was able to put in place legislations that would take care of the elderly, such as the laws of social security, housing, human resources management, pension and social insurance, family and others, and that it has sufficient resources to provide quality healthcare to patients, including the elderly.