Prospects and Ethics of Stem Cell Research: An Islamic Perspective
Stem cells (SCs) are pluripotent cells that retain the ability to develop into all cell types. This characteristic makes them appealing for use in research with view of therapeutic use, especially in "regenerative medicine." Stem cell sources include the following:
1. Embryonic stem cells (ESCs): These are derived from the inner cell mass of developing embryos.
2. Adult stem cells (ASCs): The best known source of ASCs is the hematopoietic cells of the bone marrow. These have been used clinically with good results in the treatment of leukemias. Very few ASCs may be present in other organs, e.g. the brain.
3. Cord blood: Cord blood is another source of "adult" hematopoietic stem cells.
4. Therapeutic cloning: Therapeutic cloning utilizes nuclear transfer techniques to produce pluripotent SCs with the genome of the nucleus of origin. These cells can be induced to differentiate into replacement cells for transplantation into the individual from whom the original cell was obtained, thus eliminating the requirement of immune suppression.
In this paper I will discuss the potential and realized gains of stem cell therapies as well as the potential problems associated with their use. I then will discuss the ethical dilemma that this research entails as it deals with the human embryo. I will discuss the moral status of the embryo and the varying views of ethicists in this regard and then I will discuss the opinion of religious communities and, specifically, the Islamic perspective. Islamically, stem cell research is probably permissible, except for the creation of embryos for the specific purpose of using them only in research. Therapeutic cloning will be Islamically acceptable when the intent is to create tissue/organ from the individual who needs it, the procedure is feasible, and the result is expected to be good.
Finally, I will discuss the present status of stem cell research in the United States and the politics that impact it.
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