Stem Cell – Embryonic Stem Cell Research

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful


Assalaamu `alaykum waRahmatullahi Wabarakatuh

1) The recent issue of embryonic stem cell research is one of debate amongst scholars. There are some benefits within this research as well as controversial issues. Allah Ta’ala has made the Deen of Islam complete for us, as is stated in the Holy Quran. This includes all aspects of life, since Islam itself is not just a religion, but a complete way of life. As Muslims, it is extremely important for us to abide by the laws of Allah Ta’ala at all times with taqwa. Hereunder are a few fundamental principles of Shari’ah taken from Mufti Shafi Saheb (ra) which should be understood and followed:

1) Whatever is unlawful in Shari’ah is harmful to mankind, regardless of how beneficial it may seem. This harm could be physical and spiritual. At times, this harm is as clear as daylight to everyone. At times it is only apparent to the experts in the field, and at times it is so hidden that only Allah is aware of its harms.

2) Allah Ta’ala has bestowed mankind with the highest status from all His creations and has made mankind superior over all others. The entire universe is made subservient to man in which man uses what is lawful for his nourishment and well being. Under certain circumstances, unlawful entities also become lawful. Also, due to this status and sanctity bestowed to man by Allah, it is also unlawful to derive any benefit from any part or limb of man.

3) The life bestowed to man is a Divine loan. To harm it or destroy it is a grave sin. Therefore, it is essential to uphold this trust and look after it.  It is for this reason that it is necessary to adopt methods and treatments in which one’s life can be saved.

(Aap Ki Masaail, 9/167, Maktaba Ludhwani)

There are three aspects which will be discussed below:

a) Taking benefit from an embryo

b) Whether a man and woman can donate the sperm and egg for the sake of embryonic stem cell research

c) Experimentation on embryonic stem cells

A) Allah Ta’ala says in the Holy Quran:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آَدَم…………….وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَى كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

“And we bestowed dignity on the children of Adam……….and provided them with a variety of good things and made them much superior to many of those whom We have created” (17:70)

Allah Ta’ala has bestowed honor on the human beings over all creations. He has given the human being great status and made it sacred. Allah Ta’ala has made it impermissible to derive any type of benefit from human parts, even if it does not cause any harm to the donor or the part regenerates, for example hair and nails. It is only permissible for one to take benefit from any human parts in certain cases of darurah (necessity). According to the commentary of Al-Ashbah, darurah is when a person reaches such a state that if he does not indulge in an unlawful act, he will die or be close to death. It is only in this state when unlawful becomes lawful. Also, in the state of darurah, unlawful becomes lawful only with the following three conditions:

a) The person is so sick that his life is in danger

b) The fear of losing life is not just an assumption, but a reliable doctor also agrees, and treatment is unavailable with lawful substances

c) The doctor is convinced that the person will be cured by using the unlawful substance

فالضرورة: بلوغه حدا إن لم يتناول الممنوع ،هلك أو قارب، وهذا يبيح تناول

(Sharhul-Hamawi ‘Alal-Ashbah, 1/252)

مطلب في التداوي بالمحرم ( قوله ورده في البدائع إلخ ) قدمنا في البيع الفاسد عند قوله ولبن امرأة أن صاحب الخانية والنهاية اختارا جوازه إن علم أن فيه شفاء ولم يجد دواء غيره قال في النهاية : وفي التهذيب يجوز للعليل شرب البول والدم والميتة للتداوي إذا أخبره طبيب مسلم أن فيه شفاءه ولم يجد من المباح ما يقوم مقامه ، وإن قال الطبيب يتعجل شفاؤك به فيه وجهان ، وهل يجوز شرب العليل من الخمر للتداوي فيه وجهان وهل يجوز شرب العليل من الخمر للتداوي فيه وجهان ، وكذا ذكره الإمام التمرتاشي وكذا في الذخيرة وما قيل إن الاستشفاء بالحرام حرام غير مجرى على إطلاقه وأن الاستشفاء بالحرام إنما لا يجوز إذا لم يعلم أن فيه شفاء أما إن علم وليس له دواء غيره يجوز ومعنى قول ابن مسعود رضي الله عنه لم يجعل شفاؤكم فيما حرم عليكم يحتمل أن يكون قال ذلك في داء عرف له دواء غير المحرم لأنه حينئذ يستغني بالحلال عن الحرام ويجوز أن يقال تنكشف الحرمة عند الحاجة فلا يكون الشفاء بالحرام وإنما يكون بالحلال ا هـ

(Raddul Muhtar, 6/389, HM Saeed)

According to our understanding, embryonic stem cells are derived from embryos which are created when the man’s sperm and woman’s egg are combined for in vitro fertilization. Although humans are not able to benefit from embryonic stem cells at this time since there is only potential for disease cure and research is still ongoing, it will not be permissible for one to take benefit from them in the future since they are derived from parts of the human body unless the abovementioned conditions are fulfilled.

B) As for donating, it is only permissible for a husband and wife who have extreme difficulty in conceiving children to give the sperm and egg to the in vitro lab for the maqsad (purpose) of an embryo which will be used in their cause, i.e. so that the woman may get pregnant. Shari’ah has given a scope of permissibility for in vitro solely for this reason. Scholars who oppose in vitro altogether say the reason for prohibition is that it is an unnatural process and that giving a scope of permissibility for in vitro would lead to other things against Shari’ah.

Donating embryos for the cause of extracting embryonic stem cells can be similar to the case of donating blood.

Donating and transfusing blood is permissible if:

a) There is a desperate need to donate blood

b) There is no other alternative

c) It has been prescribed by a physician

This permissibility is based on the famous principle:

الضرورات تبيح المحظورات

Necessities permit the prohibited.

The permissibility of blood donation and transfusion is also determined on the following conditions:

a) The donor willingly donates his blood. If he is compelled to do so it will not be permissible.

b) There is no danger to the donor’s life or health

c) If the doctor feels the patient will lose his life and there is no other alternative

d) There is no fear of death but recovery is not possible without the aid of it

(Al-Mahmud, P. 28)

A difference however between the donation of blood and the donation of sperm and egg for embryonic stem cell research is that the benefits of blood donation have of course already been proven while in the case of embryonic stem cells there is only potential. Therefore, the same conditions for blood donation cannot apply to donating for embryonic stem cell research at this point in time.

C) As for experimentation on embryonic stem cells, it will not be permissible to do so as the embryo is derived from the human body which is sacred in Islam. Furthermore, this may lead to abuse and be a window to other prohibitions in Islam as well, e.g. cloning.

It is also understood that in order to derive stem cells from an embryo, the embryo must be destroyed. Although this cannot be called abortion, it is considered an unethical act since the destruction of an embryo for stem cell research is the destruction of the life of a potential child. Some say that an embryo cannot have the same value as a human since it has not developed. However, in Shari’ah even if a fetus expires before the period of 120 days in pregnancy (a fetus will be considered a human after 120 days since it will have developed organs and limbs by then), then the fetus will still be buried and treated with respect. Therefore, it is understood that experimenting with the embryo will be tampering with what is derived from the human body.

In conclusion, we are of the view that it is not permissible to donate sperm and ovum for the sake of embryonic stem cell research and to benefit from an embryo unless the abovementioned conditions are fulfilled. It is also not permissible to experiment on them since it is tampering with parts derived from the human body.

وشعر الإنسان وعظمه طاهر وقال الشافعي نجس لأنه لا ينتفع به ولا يجوز بيعه ولنا أن عدم الانتفاع والبيع لكرامته فلا يدل على نجاسته والله أعلم (الهداية)

(Al-Hidayah)

(Al-Ashbah wan-Nazaair)

2) The umbilical cord blood is in the same ruling as other parts of the body, in that they must be respected and buried. The habitual practice of the Sahaba (RadiyAllahu Anhum) was to bury as well. It is stated in Hadith:

عن ابن عمر قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ادفنوا الاظفار والشعر والدم

“Ibn Umar (RadiyAllahu Anhu) says that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said: Bury nails, hair, and blood.” (Sunan al-Kubra Al-Bayhaqee)

فإذا قلم أطفاره أو جز شعره ينبغي أن يدفن ذلك الظفر والشعر المجزوز فإن رمى به فلا بأس وإن ألقاه في الكنيف أو في المغتسل يكره ذلك لأن ذلك يورث داء كذا في فتاوى قاضي خان .

يدفن أربعة الظفر والشعر وخرقة الحيض والدم كذا في الفتاوى العتابية .

(Fatawa al-Hindiyya, Vol. 5, P. 438, Darul Kutub Ilmiyya)

أن السن من الآدمي جزء منه فإذا انفصل استحق الدفن

(Badaai’ al-Sanaai’, Vol. 4, P. 316, Darul Kitab Deoband)

And Allah knows best

Wassalam u Alaikum

Ml. Asif Umar,
Student Darul Iftaa

Checked and Approved by:

Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Darul Iftaa, Madrassah In’aamiyyah

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