Stem Cell Research: Ethicaland Religious Issues



Introduction: Stem cells are undifferentiated, primitive cells with the unrivalled ability to differentiate into any specialized cell type. The discovery of stem cells early in the 1980s has promised new treatments and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries. Research using embryonic stem cells (ESCs) is a very important area of current biomedical investigation. Iran is one of the first countries which have produced human embryonic stem cells. However, stem cell research have raised a series of ethical and religious questions that are being confronted by multiple international organizations, nations, cultures, and religious traditions. Our aim is to review the main ethical issues in this challengeable field, considering the different religious viewpoints. The national specific guideline for the gamete and embryo research (2005) will be stated.
Materials and Methods: For compiling the article, we have searched articles in Google and Ovid search engines, PubMed, and IranMedex sources by using appropriate Abstract of the 8th Royan International Twin Congress, Tehran, Iran, 5-7 September 2007 Yakhteh Medical Journal, Vol 9, Sup 1, Summer 2007 37 keywords. We have also used the Holy Koran and religious opinions from great Muslim scholars. We have referred to some English, Arabic and Farsi books in this field.
Results: Stem cells can be obtained from different sources. Using adult stem cells is relatively free of ethical conflicts. But embryonic stem cell (ESC) research is controversial because harvesting the stem cells destroys the embryo. The status of the pre-implantation embryo is the most sensitive and disputed point in the debate on isolation of human ESCs for research. Considerable differences of opinion exist with regard to the ontological and moral status of the preimplantation embryo. On the other hand, many people believe that permitting this type of research paves the way for reproduction of an entire human and will open the way to a slippery slope of dehumanizing practices, such as embryo farms, cloned babies, the use of foetuses for spare parts, and the commodification of human life. The issue of ''Proportionality'', ''Justice'', ''Resource Allocation'' and ''Subsidiarity'' are a number of other important debates in this field. There is no consensus on the morality of the embryo, even within particular religious traditions. In Islam the embryo, even in the first day of its existence, has the right of life but according to some decrees (Fatwa), the use of embryo for therapeutic or research purposes may be acceptable under necessity if that is takes place before the point at which the embryo is ensouled. Conclusion: Research involving human embryos could be permitted for therapeutic purposes with full considerations and all precautions. Cooperation of scientists, ethicists, jurisprudents and lawyers is essential for establishing a culturally-adapted and well-controlled system at national and international level. Public education and information about the ethical issues raised by stem cell research and its application is necessary.