There is a a medical condition in the fetus called ‘Down’s syndrome ‘(mongolism) The features in a newborn with such a condition may include congenital heart defects (eg hole in heart), mental retardation, respiratory problems, stunted general growth, infertility and some other physical deformities.
Statistically downs syndrome occurs 1 in every 200 pregnancies. It can also occur before or after age 35 but the risk factor starts at age 35 and therefore certain blood screening tests for downs are conducted in pregnant women who are 35. There are no maternal complications in this condition in a Down’s syndrome pregnancy.
The above can be diagnosed prior to delivery as early as 15- 18 weeks of pregnancy through certain tests (amniocentesis). It can also be diagnosed before week 15 of pregnancy by a certain test called ‘ CVS’ i.e. chorionic villus sampling. (Tests include blood tests and a sample of amniotic fluid taken through a woman’s abdomen to determine the status of the fetus).
Although benefit of the latter ie CVS is that it can be done before 15 weeks but the risk of miscarrying the fetus after this procedure is higher than amniocentesis.
Please comment on the Shari`ah standpoint of willingly terminating a pregnancy in the above-mentioned medical situation.
In one of my earlier responses to a related question titled ‘Abortion’,1 I have written:
… it seems that it is only after the fetus receives its ‘Ruh’ that it becomes a complete human being. Obviously, we cannot ascertain, on scientific and observable basis, the exact time at which the fetus receives its part of the Divine ‘Ruh’, as it is not a physical phenomenon. However, the Qur’an also tells us that at the time the fetus receives its part of the Divine ‘Ruh’, its faculties of sight, hearing and understanding are also developed. I suppose that modern medical and embryonic scientists can ascertain the particular time when these faculties are developed in the fetus. If this can be achieved, it would then become possible for us to say that a complete ‘human being’ can be said to exist in its mother’s womb at this particular time and not before it. Thus, if the process of the development of a human being is to be aborted, it should be aborted before this time.
The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said that the various stages in the development of the fetus till the time it receives the Divine ‘Ruh’ takes one hundred and twenty days. If this narrative is correctly ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) and the narrators have correctly reported the saying of the Prophet (pbuh), then we can say that it is up to this time, after the initial conception, that only the vessel or the body is developed in the mother’s womb and not a complete ‘human being’. Thus, if there are any moral, ethical, social or medical justifications for aborting the process of the formation of a human being, it should be carried out before this time.
In the light of the foregoing, I will be more inclined towards allowing aborting the fetus if any major deficiency is determined in it within a period of time in which it has not developed into a complete human being. This time, if the narrative ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh) is considered reliable and in the absence of the availability of any contrary scientific information, may be taken as one hundred and twenty days from the time of conception. After this time, abortion should be avoided except under potentially dire health repercussions for the mother, as in that case, it would clearly amount to taking a human life. Just as it is beyond the scope of a medical practitioner to terminate the life of a human being in view of a grave physical or mental deficiency that he/she may have acquired, similarly it should be considered a transgression on the part of a medical practitioner to terminate an unborn human being, even in the face of a grave and apparently uncurable medical problem.
I hope this helps.