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Stem cell research & therapeutic cloning

Published: 27/08/2011 10:45:00 AM GMT
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Are there any circumstances when embryonic stem cell research would be Islamically allowed?


Answered by

the Scientific Research Committee - IslamToday.net

We would maintain that the fetus in the womb should be respected, even after death. However, stem cell research generally relies upon a procedure called therapeutic cloning conducted outside the womb. Below is our discussion about embryonic stem cell research from our website’s article on cloning. You may view the entire article at the following link:

The Question of Cloning

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Therapeutic cloning is also referred to as embryo cloning. It involves the production of human embryos for medical research. This procedure is not intended to produce cloned human beings, but rather to generate stem cells that can be used to study human development and to treat disease. These eggs are never planted in a womb and are never brought to term. It is hoped that one day, human stem cells may be used as replacement cells in the treatment of such diseases as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

Stem cells are produced in a fertilized human egg after it has divided for five days and has become as blastocyst. The extraction of these stem cells destroys the embryo. Egg cells need to be collected from women’s ovaries. The nuclear genetic material is then removed from these egg cells. Thereafter an adult tissue cell (like a human skin cell) is inserted in the egg’s nucleus. The egg is then stimulated to initiate cell division.

One day therapeutic cloning might be able to generate tissues and organs for transplants. The DNA would be extracted from the patient needing the transplant and inserted into an egg. After this egg starts to divide, embryonic stem cells would be harvested that could then be transformed into any type of tissue. These stem cells would be used to generate an organ or other tissue that genetically matches the recipient and that could then be transplanted into the patient without the risk of tissue rejection. In the future, this could significantly reduce the need for organ donors. It is important here to mention that such organs would be grown in isolation and not as part of a complete organism.

This procedure brings up the ethical question of the definition of human life. We are dealing with a human embryo. Does this embryo in the first few days of its existence enjoy the rights and the sanctity of a human life?

The majority of scholars permit abortion during the first 120 days of pregnancy out of necessity on the strength of the hadîth: “One of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days as a drop, then another forty days as a clot, then another forty days as a lump of flesh. Then the angel is sent to him and his soul is breathed into him.” [Sahîh al Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim] This hadîth indicates that the human form is not endowed with a soul until 120 days after conception

However, the vast majority of scholars only allow abortion within this time period when there is a physical or emotional necessity involved, like a high possibility that the baby will be born deformed or in cases where the woman has been raped. Though the soul has not yet been breathed into it, it is still a potential human life. One question that must be asked is whether the potential lives that may be saved in the future warrant destroying a human embryo. The answer to this question, taken in isolation of other considerations, would probably be in the negative.

However, there are other matters to consider. A far more essential question is whether such an embryo can even be said to constitute a potential human life. We can safely say that the unfertilized egg does not constitute a human life. We can also safely say that the process of artificial fertilization that is going on in the laboratory is not being done with the intention of producing a human life. (If it were, it would be prohibited for the reasons we have already discussed in the section on human cloning.) We must also consider the fact that even if the embryo were not destroyed by the extraction of the stem cells; it would have no chance of survival on its own, since it is not in a womb or even in an artificial environment that could bring it to term. Finally, the time of its destruction is very early on in its development – five days. This is an extremely short period of time.

Because of these differences, and in consideration of the benefits that could be realized for humanity from this procedure, we incline to the idea that therapeutic cloning of this sort is permissible. However, these questions warrant further investigation.

Dr. Sâmî al-Mâjid offers the following statement about therapeutic cloning:

If the meaning of this procedure is to produce fully cloned adults, children, or even a fetus so that its organs can be used as substitutes for another, then this is categorically prohibited. The reason for this is that we are dealing with a human life created by Allah, even though it is a clone. Its limbs and organs cannot be put on the market – even if it is still a fetus – since it is sacred. However, if it is possible to clone specific organs in isolation, like a heart or a liver or a kidney to be provided to those who need such organs, then this is something welcomed by our religion and worthy of reward, because of the benefits that it brings to humanity without bringing harm to anyone.

One final objection that is sometimes raised for all unnecessary medical procedures involving human reproductive cells, is that they require the exposure of the female sexual organs to a doctor without there being a pressing medical necessity for the woman being exposed. This objection has been levied by a few scholars against a host of medical procedures – like in-vitro fertilization – that are not critical to the health of the patient. However, considering the real and potential benefits to humanity from this research, we maintain that such an objection should not be used to prohibit therapeutic cloning, even for those scholars who prohibit fertility treatments on these grounds.

And Allah knows best.

Source: Islam Today




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