From a scientific perspective, cloning is the process of creating genetically identical offspring by using an adult somatic cell through the technique of nuclear transfer.1 This differs from in-vitro fertilization because cloning need not use human egg and sperm but made reproduction with any cell possible. The first animal to be cloned using this method was a sheep called Dolly in 1996. It only survived 6 years, less than her life expectancy of 12 years.2 Some scientists hypothesized that Dolly died early because she was cloned from a six-year old sheep and was born with that genetic age, as evidenced by her shorter telomeres.3 This indicated that the process itself was risky and might result in abnormalities. Since Dolly’s birth, other animals such as pigs, deer, horses, sheep and bulls have been cloned with mixed success. For each cloning success, there had been hundreds of failed attempts.4 However, research into the possible use of this technique continues in many different directions such as cloning new organs to replace diseased ones and reviving dead humans or extinct species with frozen tissue. To date, there has been no consistent success in these efforts.5 The most visible application of the technology in human life is the formation of clinics that allow parents to choose the gender of their baby for a fee but even that practice is not always successful.6 Practically speaking, the application of cloning technology has thus far been speculative.
1 Wilmut, I, Schrieke A.E, McWhir J., Kind A.J et al, “Viable Offspring Derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells.” In Nature, 385, (1997), pp 810-13
2 ‘Tech and Science’ The Straits Times, 18 February 2003.
3 Shiels P.G, Kind A.J, Campbell K.H et al. “Analysis of telomere lengths in cloned sheep.” Nature 339, (1999), pp. 316-7.
4 David Shukman, ‘China cloning on an industrial scale’ BBC News Science and Environment, 14 February 2014.
5 ‘Not time yet for therapeutic cloning: Experts’ The Straits Times, 25 June 2002.
6 ‘Gender Selection: An Empty Promise’, The New Paper, 16 May 2004.
The BAC explained that any research done should be based on the guiding principles of being “just and sustainable.”1 Therefore, it recommended that research is permitted but regulated in Singapore. It suggests that stem cells should only be derived from cadaveric foetuses subject to the informed consent of the tissue donor. While this was still unacceptable to groups who were against abortion, the BAC maintained an intermediate position in that it asserted that the human embryo had a special status but not equal to that of a living child.2 A year later, it took the view that therapeutic cloning of embryos as a source of embryonic stem cells should be legalized, which boosted stem cell research in the country.3
This supportive stance towards research attracted experts such as Professor Alan Coleman who had helped to clone Dolly the sheep. He moved to Singapore in 2002 to carry out more research here.4 Millions of dollars were also spent funding research in stem cells.5 Such a decision is and remains highly controversial both locally and internationally. Some religious groups such as the Catholic Church remained strongly opposed to therapeutic cloning using embryos.
At the international level, the United Nations called on member states to avoid using somatic cell nuclear transfer, a stance that was shared by the Council of Europe’s Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.6 The World Health Organization took the opposite stand.7 Outside Europe, no international treaty on stem cell research has been signed and ratified since many Asian countries such as Japan and China are generally positive about the technology and related research. It has also been reported that China had already cloned hundreds of embryos.8 It remains to be seen whether a consensus on the issue can be reached in the future.
1 Bioethics Advisory Committee (2001). Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in Human Stem Cell Research, Reproductive and Therapeutic Cloning. Bioethics Advisory Committee (Singapore). Available online at http://www.bioethics-singapore.org/index/publications/reports/86-reports/174-stem-cell-research.html. Accessed on Aug 8, 2015.
3 ‘Cloning can wait until moral issues clear up’ The Straits Times, 5 July 2002
4 ‘Goodbye Dolly, Hello Molly’ The Business Times 13 September 2002.
5 ‘70m stem-cell funding may see cure for diabetes’ The Straits Times, 14 September 2002.
6 ‘Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of Human Beings with Regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine,’ Signed in Oviedo (2010) (Text online). Available at: http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/164.htm. Accessed 18 May 2015.
7 See Roberto Adamo, “The Oviedo Convention: A European Legal Framework at the Intersection of Human Rights and Health Law” Journal of International Biotechnology Law 2:4, 134.
8 ‘China has cloned 30 human embryos’ The Straits Times, 16 July 2002
A contemporary scholar of Muslim law, Dr. Kamal Imam, stated that fiqh iftirāḍī is the process of theorising future issues according to the foundations of sharīʿa and its sources in order to determine the rulings for these issues. This is so that the Muslim community is not caught unprepared to address new developments, as well as advancements in science and life where rulings have yet to be decided. He argues that the hypothetical process assumes the occurrence of an issue and establishes its ruling, which is an integral part of contemporary fiqh that should be developed.1
Muhammad Kamal Imam, “al-Tafkīr al-Fiqhī fī al-Madhāhib wa al-Mauqif min al-Fiqh al-Iftirāḍī: Murājaʿa Naqdiyya”. Working paper delivered at the 8th Seminar on the Development of fiqh with the theme of fiqh and the Future: Principles of Maqāṣid and al-Fiqh al-Iftirāḍī, Oman April 6-9, 2014.
The BAC published its recommendations titled “Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in Genetic Testing and Genetics Research.” These recommendations were discussed by the Fatwa Committee, who agreed in principle to the recommendations put forth as they are congruent with Islamic principles, especially the principle of ʿUrf. These are evident from the proposed guidelines, which seek to ensure that it is an individual choice and that there is no coercion in the matter. The Fatwa Committee also gave greater emphasis in its discussion on some of the recommendations that have direct impact on Islamic practice and creed.1
1 Refer “Bioethical code proposed,” Today, April 2005. For full article see, “Genetic Testing and Genetic Research,” Bioethics Advisory Committee Singapore (2005), accessed on 30 July 2015. http://www.bioethics-singapore.org/index/publications/reports.html
An area of scientific development that will require more attention by the Fatwa Committee is the combination of human-animal cells for the production of research cells, known as human-chimera hybrids. A chimera is an organism that has cells from another organism, which may or may not be from a different species. Technically, these hybrids and chimeras already exist in our society as animal parts have been used on humans medically for decades in operations, such as in skin grafting and heart transplants. However, with the advent of stem cell research, scientists became interested in developing ‘cytoplasmic hybrid embryos’ in order to extract stem cells for future research.1 These hybrids are created by moving a human nucleus into an animal egg, in which the nucleus has been taken out, whereas an ‘animal chimera’ is produced by transplanting human stem cells into an animal body to study the biology of these stem cells.
The main ethical issue is that such research opens up the possibility of producing humans with animal characteristics or vice versa if these embryos are allowed to mature. This process blurs the boundaries between humans and animals, leading to a bigger question of the moral rights of each species. This was among the reasons that have caused many countries to hesitate in allowing this type of research. In addition, some people object to the idea of “playing God” by creating hybrid species not found in nature while others find the process cruel to animals.2
Scientists managed to forge ahead in countries like China where they successfully created cytoplasmic embryos from combining human cells with rabbit eggs3 while scientists in Britain succeeded in generating stem cells from a fertilized cow egg and a human nucleus in 2008. These developments marked milestones in the field.4Cytoplasmic embryos have the advantage of patient-specific or disease-specific stem cells derivation.5 Britain became one of the first countries to approve of creating cytoplasmic embryos when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority approved applications by two universities that sought to do so.6 This move was followed by legal approval: lawmakers in Britain rejected a legislative amendment to ban such research in May 2008,7 even though the move was protested by pro-life groups and the Vatican. Other countries such as Australia, India, New Zealand and the United States circumvented controversy by setting up strict restrictions on such research.
In Singapore, the BAC reached out to the public for their opinions on the research through the public forum REACH.8 They released a consultation paper in January 2008 and held a discussion forum as well as an e-consultation paper. About 64 responses were collected in total and they indicated that animal rights groups and religious groups tended to find such research disturbing.9 The BAC eventually concluded that human-animal research should be subject to the same regulations as pertains to the use of animals in research. The breeding of human-animal hybrids are strictly prohibited.10
1 “Fact sheet: Cybrids,” The Straits Times, 21 May 2008, p. 20.
2 Bioethics Advisory Committee, (2010) “Human-Animal Combinations in Stem-Cell Research,” Bioethics Advisory Committee, Singapore, pp. 16-20. Available online at http://www.bioethics-singapore.org/images/uploadfile/54403%20PMHAC%20Report%20.pdf. Accessed on 23 July 2015.
3 Chen Y et al. (2003). “Embryonic stem cells generated by nuclear transfer of human somatic nuclei into rabbit oocytes.” Cell Research, 13, pp. 251-263.
4 ‘New Breed of Cow-boys,’ The Straits Times, 13 April 2008, 30.
6 ‘First human-animal embryos for Britain,’ The Straits Times, 3 April 2008, 16.
7 ‘Britain rejects human-animal embryo ban,’ The Straits Times, 21 May 2008, 20.
8 “Time to discuss grey areas.” Today, 3 April 2008, p. 10.
9 Bioethics Advisory Committee (2010)”Annex D: Summary of Responses from REACH Online Discussion Forum and e-Consultation.”Bioethics Advisory Committee Singapore. Available online at http://www.bioethics-singapore.org/index/publications/reports/86-reports/167-human-animal-combinations-in-stem-cell-research.html. Accessed 30 July 2015.
10 Bioethics Advisory Committee, (2010) “Human-Animal Combinations in Stem-Cell Research,” pp. 21-22.