The Ethics of Stem Cell Research – Revisited
By Dr. Mohamed Ali Al Bar and Dr. Isam Ghanem
When does an embryo become a person with all rights owed to a peron and at what point in pregnancy does it become owed full moral standing?
Is it at fertilization (if we believe this, we should, then consider a fertilized egg in a test tube a person), or at implantation (if we believe this, we should ponder if you are causing death by using the contraceptive coil since this prevents implantation), or is it at the stage at which the fetal heart develops or fetal EEG becomes apparent ( after all we do -in a mirror image fashion-diagnose death when the heart stops or brain activity ceases)?
Two Aden College alumni – Dr Mohamed Ali Al bar in his many papers and Dr Isam Ghanem, in his oft-quoted book – Islamic Medical jurisprudence-addressed the Islamic view regarding stem cell and embryonic research. They invoke the important and centrally significant role of the Islamic concept of ensoulment which –according to the majority of Moslem jurist-occurs at 120 days of gestation when discussing embryo research, stem cell research and indeed the permissibilty of abortion.
The moment of ensolument appears to be the dividing line between a somewhat relaxed attitude towards allowing abortion ( albiet with certain conditions to be fulfilled) on the one hand and stringent and highly narrow criteria for allowing abortion beyond 120 days of gestation on the other.
Dr Isam Ghanem also wrote two papers on this topic namely "The Response of Islamic Jurisprudence to Ectopic Pregnancies, Frozen Embryo Implantation and Euthanasia (In: Arab Law Quarterly 4, 345-349. (1989)) and "Embryo Research: An Islamic Response«. In: Medicine, Science and the Law 32.1, (1991).
His writings have been recently quoted as follows . “thus it is not surprising if discussions (among Islamic scholars)about stem cell research center on the moment that the soul is breathed into the embryo. On this the Arabic legal expert Isam Ghanem says ‘‘Embryo Research is … legal under Islamic Jurisprudence provided the foetus is under 120 days old and provided both the mother and husband together consent to such research’’ (Ilhan Ilkilic “New Bioethical Problems As a Challenge for Muslims” in Forum for Intercultural Philosophy 6 (2005).
In the Holy Quran we read in Chapter 23, verse 12-14 “We created man of an extraction of clay, then we sent him, a drop in a safe lodging, then We created of the drop a clot, then we created of the clot a tissue, then We created of the tissue bones, then we covered the bones in flesh; thereafter We produced it as another creature. So blessed be God, the best of creators”. Some scholars interpret “thereafter We produced him as another creature” to mean that later, in gestational development- does a fetus become full human being as reflected by “thereafter We produced him as another creature.
Dr Moahmed Ali Albar- an Aden College alumnus is arguably the most pre-eminent Moslem physician/Ismaic scholar writing on Islamic Medical Ethics. Among his many writings on the status o embryos in Islam, one could mention:
* Contemporary Topics in Islamic Medicine
* Human development, as revealed in the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. Jeddah: Saudi Publishing House, 1992:57–62
Counselling about genetic disease: an Islamic perspective- Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal v.5:6, 1999.
He is quoted as writing “ according to Ibn hajar Al Asqalani and Ibn Al Qaim human life only occurs when the nervous system is developed in the embryo and when voluntary movements have started. Prior to that, the embryo has only a vegetative life. Abu Hamid Al Ghazali argued that although ensoulment occurs at a latter stage, the life of the embryo should be respected from the time of fertilization.