The meaning of life

Bet you didn't know this:

Egypt will not be the first predominantly Muslim country to conduct stem-cell research. Iranian scientists developed human embryonic stem-cell lines in 2003 with the approval of Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme religious leader . . . Singapore, where Muslims have a slight majority, has also produced embryonic stem-cell lines. And nonembryonic stem-cell research is conducted in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia . . .

In 2003, a scholar in Cairo issued a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) stating that therapeutic cloning of embryos would be considered lawful and could be compared to the accepted practice of donating cells, tissues, or organs for transplants . . .

Some other Muslim groups and countries support both embryonic stem-cell research and therapeutic cloning, such as Turkey, the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology in Egypt, and the National Fatwa Council in Malaysia.

It's all from a decent piece in The Christian Science Monitor on how Islam is dealing with the issue of stem-cell research. Like Judaism, Mormonism, and a few other faiths, much of Islam holds to some version of "ensoulment" (that is, the soul is joined to the body at some point after conception). So, within certain bounds, using embryos to extract stem cells may not be considered a violation of Sharia.

"Unlike the Vatican in Catholicism," reporter Christl Dabu explains, "Islam does not have a centralized authority to state a position. Most Muslim countries -- including Egypt -- don't yet have laws concerning embryonic stem-cell research and cloning."

On the ground in Egypt, she found that "Some Muslims . . . are open to allowing embryonic stem-cell research, saying the embryo does not have a soul until later stages in its development. But others agree with Coptic Orthodox and Catholic clergy, who say it is immoral, even infanticide, to destroy embryos at any stage to harvest stem cells."

It will be interesting to watch how this debate shakes out. I hope the Monitor circles back to the subject before too long.

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