Speaker asked all women to leave a Medical Seminar, Saudi Arabia 

Arab News  

RIYADH, 22 November 2006 — A presenter from King Saud University at an international medical seminar at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center caused a stir yesterday when he insisted that all women — including medical and media professionals — leave the room before he would enter the room to give his presentation.

 

Initially some women expressed consternation at the request, but later relented and left the room so the doctor and orthodox man could give his presentation about Islam and the ethics of organ donation and end-of-life issues.   

Prior to the presentation by Dr. Yousef Al-Ahmed, the audience was informed that the doctor would not be in the same room with women when he spoke about medical ethics.  “We had to ask the female medical staff to leave the hall based on the sheikh’s request,” said a member of the organizing committee who preferred to remain anonymous.   

“This is ridiculous,” said one woman, a medical professional and Muslim. “In the Grand Mosque in Makkah men and women pray together. Why are we being asked to leave? This guy knows a hospital is a mixed place. He should have realized that before he came,” she said. “I am being put in a very embarrassing situation.”   

A Saudi woman who specializes in neuroscience said the doctor had no right to ask women to leave.  “We had every right to be there,” she said on condition of anonymity. “We were attending a scientific medical symposium. If he did not want to attend the symposium because it was mixed with men and women medical experts doing their job,  that is his problem, not ours.

 After Al-Ahmed persisted on his request that women not pollute his presentation with their presence, event coordinators began urging women to leave so the event could continue. Two women reporters from Saudi Arabian Television Channel One and Saudi satellite channel Al-Ekhabriya were also told to leave the hall.   

After the doctor was satisfied by the absence of women, he began to speak on medical ethics in an Islamic context. He said that a fatwa from the Council of Islamic Fiqh Academy has declared that it is permissible in Islam to turn off life-support machines once a patient has been declared brain dead.  

 “That condition applies only if confirmation is given by physicians of the cessation of brain activity and that the cessation is irreversible,” he said. He also said that according to the fatwa from the academy, it was permissible in Islam to remove organs from brain-dead patients, even if the heart was still pumping.

“This was also approved by the Islamic Jurisprudence Council held in Makkah,” he said.  Islamic scholar Dr. Abdullah Al-Bar, another presenter, pointed out that many Islamic scholars in the Kingdom do not approve of removing organs from a body whose heart is still beating.  

 “Their position is that a person is not dead until all indications of death have appeared, such as the heart stopping, the stoppage of the blood system, or vital organs,” said Al-Bar. Debate among the men continued over how to determine when the soul of a human being has left the body.

“Even Islamic scholars in the past could only identify that by certain signs such as eye movement toward one direction and blueness of the body,” said Al-Bar.


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