In the Name of God Cloning And Stem Cell Research Issues: Religious Viewpoints on Value Of Life The Eighth Asian Bioethics Conference March 19-23, 2007, Bangkok, Thailand Farzaneh Zahedi, MD Researcher of Tehran University of Medical Sciences Bagher Larijani, MD
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Cloning And Stem Cell
on Value Of Life
The Eighth Asian Bioethics Conference
March 19-23, 2007, Bangkok, Thailand
Bagher Larijani, MD
Professor of Tehran University
of Medical Sciences
Medical Ethics and History of Medicine Research Centre,
& Endocrinology and Metabolism Research Centre,
Tehran University of Medical Sciences
The discovery of Embryonic Stem Cells (ESCs ) in the 1980s suggested therapeutic approaches to chronic, debilitating, and incurable diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer's, Diabetes Mellitus, and brain and spinal injuries.
Using ESCs are surrounded by a number of ethical controversies, the extent of which is partly dependent on their source.
The debate over this subject became further complicated in 1998 when researchers were able to isolate human Embryonic Stem Cells (hESCs).
Many areas of stem cell research and their potential clinical applications are associated with controversy;
therefore there are varied socio-cultural, ethical, political, and religious viewpoints to be considered in discussions about the production and use of stem cells.
The most important application of hES cells is clinically in
and regenerative medicine.
NATURE BIOTECHNOLOGY 1999; 17: 1173
J Clin Invest, Vol.114, No.9, 2004, pp. 1184-1186
Stem cells retain the ability to differentiate into cells and tissues from all 3 germ layers
(endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm).
But, these cells cannot form the other
‘extra- embryonic’ tissues necessary for complete development, such as placentaand membranes, therefore
they cannot give rise to a complete new individual.
Source: NIH 2001: Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions
An alternative method of deriving human ESCs is somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), or cloning .
SCNT across species is an important challenge.
Nuclear transfer embryo about to be activated
(Roslin Institute http://www.roslin.ac.uk)
Stem cells produced by therapeutic cloning are genetically similar to the cells of the individual who donated the nucleus, and thus avoid problems of rejection.
Further improvements in SCNT protocols and in vitro culture systems are needed before contemplating the use of this technique for cell therapy.
When does “human life” begin?
The Moral status of human embryo
is major ethical issue in conducting this research. To create new cell lines, it is necessary to destroy preimplantation blastocysts.
The question is
whether the destruction of human embryos amounts to the killing of human beings.
Is it ethical to fertilize embryo merely for stem cell harvesting?
Human Reproduction, Vol.18, No.4, 2003,pp. 672-682
One moral argument is that human ‘personhood’ begins at conception, or –as in cloning– at the genetic beginning.
Based on this argument, the destruction of embryos for research cannot be justified.
New Engl J of Med, Vol.346, No.20, 2002, pp. 1579-82
A different moral argument underlines that embryos do deserve protection and a certain respect, but not to the same extent as fully developed babies.
From this viewpoint, the moral status of embryos gradually increases with their development. Once they are born, they are entitled to enjoy full rights as human beings. Therefore, destruction of embryos can be justified to provide a treatment for patients.
A third type of moral argument points out that certain milestones exist in embryonic development that change the status of embryos.
a wealth of teachings about the
key moments of life; its beginningand its end.
Controversy lies with idea of using embryonic stem cells and where life begins.
Controversial on embryonic stem cell research
- Central virtues of knowledge and compassion
- Want to alleviate human suffering
- First precept of Buddhism: prohibits causing death or injury to living creatures
- Ahimsa- non harming
- Life begins at conception; karmic identity of recently deceased individual
- No enduring soul
In opinion of most Muslim jurists,
stem cell and cloning research, as great scientific events, would have advantages and limitations.
Transplantation Proceedings, Vol.36, No.10, 2005, pp. 3188-3189
According to Islamic beliefs, the fetus undergoes a series of transformations beginning as an organism and becoming a human being. The fetus culminates in becoming a full human being when it is “ensouled” at 120 days (the end of the fourth month) from the moment of conception.
Holy Quran (chapter 23/verses 12-14) describes the development of an embryo into a full human person:
"We created Man of an extraction of clay, then we set 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 (khaliqin)!"
Nevertheless, the rights of the child begin prior to her/his birth. Given the Islamic teachings, the embryo, even in the first days of its existence, has the right to live and no one has the right to kill it; but the punishment of fetus eradication in the pre-ensoulment stages will be much less than abortion after ensoulment.
It is obvious that because of the potential therapeutic benefits of the procedure of stem cell research and cloning, destruction of the blastocyst and research into human ESCs should be justified according to the majority of Muslim scholars.
The conference was organized in Casablanca. A consensus was reached that:
“Cloning does not bring into question any Islamic belief in any way. Allah is the Creator of the universe but He has established the system of cause-and-effect in this world. Sowing a seed in the ground is the cause but only Allah produces the effect from it in the form of a plant. Similarly cloning is a cause and only through Allah's Will it can produce the effect. Just as the person sowing the seed is not the creator of the resulting plant, so the cloning technician is not the creator of the resulting animal. Allah alone is the Creator and all creation takes place solely through His Will."
Human Cloning: comments by political groups, religious authorities.
Most attendees concluded that reproductive cloning is permissible for plants and animals, but not humans. "The extension of cloning to human beings would create extremely complex and intractable social and moral problems."
Human Cloning: comments by political groups, religious authorities.
Currently, stem cell research and cloning for therapeutic purposes is permissible with full consideration and all possible precautions in pre-ensoulment stages of fetus development.
This is the consensus of Sunni and Shia Muslims; but only a minority of Sunni scholars are against it.
Transplantation Proceedings, Vol.36, No.10, 2004, pp. 3188-3189
Blood Cells, Molecules, and Diseases, Vol.32, 2004, pp. 100-105
A brief review of Islamic perspectives about reproductive and therapeutic cloning and stem cell research has been published in 2004.
and Cloning in Iran
Considerable differences exist between countries in the regulation of stem cell research and nuclear transfer to produce human embryo.
is prohibited in Iran, however,
embryonic stem cell research
has been approved by the religious authorities and some projects have started.
Office of the Supreme Leader, Ref # M/8/239001, February 5, 2003
The Guidelines were compiled as a common project by the “Medical Ethics Research Center” and the “Endocrinology and metabolism research center” of Tehran University of Medical sciences (2005-2006). This project supported by “Deputy of research and technology of the Ministry of Health ”.
The primary draft was reviewed by some law, ethics, medical and religious experts.
The Guidelines were developed to observe ethical rules in research and to protect research participants all over the country.
Religion has an inevitable influence on many medical ethics decision-makings and legislations.
No consensus exists among religious traditions (or secular moral traditions) about the moral status of the embryo.
An ethical public policy in our pluralistic world has to respect diverse fundamental beliefs.
Cooperation of scientists, ethicists, jurisprudents and lawyers is essential for establishing a well-controlled system and appropriate ethical and scientific supervision of the research programs at national, regional and international levels.
Guidelines and protocols ought to be established in order to allow scientists to pursue new medical advances while maintaining the highest ethical standards in the use of human embryos.
Public education about the ethical and policy issues raised by stem cell research and its application is necessary.