Stem Cell Research
The Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC) is of the view that it accepts the use of embryos created from in-vitro fertilisation, which are less than 14 days old, for the purpose of serious research involving stem cells for the benefit of mankind.
Based on scientific research, human embryos, which are less than 14 days old, have no pain or sentience since only at the 14th day does a primitive streak appear and develop into the nervous system.
The Fatwa (Legal) Committee was requested to give a fatwa on this issue.
Prior to this, Muis had organised a talk on 8 Sep 2001 on Stem Cells and Genome, which was delivered by Assoc Prof Tusqa Too Heng Poon. The talk was attended by the Muis Council and the Fatwa Committee.
ISLAMIC LEGAL GUIDELINES
Based on the explanation and research on the issue, the Fatwa Committee is of the view that Islam welcomes academic research on human genome, genetic engineering and other related fields. However, such research must be utilised for the benefit of mankind in areas like the treatment of illnesses. The research has to be within the boundaries of principles in Islamic Jurisprudence, which include :
a) There should not be any harm and nothing should be done to cause harm
The principle means :
- Do not cause harm to one’s self and to others.
- Do not do something that will benefit one’s self but will harm or cause difficulty to others.
b) Harm should be avoided.
The principle means :
- Harm, which is sure to occur, should be avoided whether before or after it occurs.
POSITION OF EMBRYO IN ISLAMIC LAW
What is Islam’s view on the fertilisation of an embryo within or outside the womb ?
The Fatwa Committee is of the view that Islam does not place any judgement on an embryo, which is not fully formed. An embryo is only considered as a human life after it is 4 months old as in Islam, it is believed that a soul is introduced into the embryo when it is 4 months old. This is the view of most jurists based on the hadith (Tradition) narrated by Abdullah bin Mas’ud which means :
"Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother's belly for forty days in the form of seed, then he is a clot of blood for a like period, then a morsel of flesh for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows the breath of life into him and who is commanded about four matters: to write down his means of livelihood, his life span, his actions, and whether happy or unhappy…”
Related by Bukhari and Muslim.
Thus, an embryo below 4 months whether within or outside the womb, is considered as a living thing undergoing the growth process. However, it is not yet considered as the beginning of human life with the existence of a soul.
Past and present jurists have given a similar view. Among them include Dr Muhammad Sulaiman Al-Asyqar who is of the view that an embryo which is not formed or is not in a woman’s womb, will not be placed any judgement on it. He explained :
“Islamic law does place any form of judgement on an embryo which is not formed. Verily, I have explained in detail my opinion during my forum discussion on birth. In that forum, decision had been made that Islamic law does not place any judgement on a woman’s fertlised egg except after it is in the womb. There is no judgement on it before it is in the womb.”
A similar opinion was also given by the Fatwa Institution of Darul Ifta’, Saudi Arabia where, for as long as there is no soul in an embryo, the sperm and the egg are judged to be living things adapting to their specific conditions. They are considered as components of the fertilization process. The have not reached the stage of a complete human being. The following is the text from the fatwa of Darul Ifta’ which means :
“If it is destined that the sperm and a woman’s egg do not die, both will live adapting their respective conditions as created. With Allah’s will and predestination, both will fuse. At that point, an embryo will be formed. The embryo will live according to its own growth and development following the defined stages. When a soul is introduced, a human life will be created based on the will of Allah, who is the Subtle one and the All-Knowing”.
In relation to this, the Fatwa Committee rules that the opinion of the Bioethics Advisory Committee to use stem cells from embryos below 14 days old for the purpose of research, which will benefit mankind, is allowed in Islam. This is with the condition that it is not misused for the purpose of human reproductive cloning, which would result in contamination of progeny and the loss of human dignity.