- Human Embryonic Stem Cell (HESC) Research in Malaysia:Multi-Faith Perspectives
The Malaysian government has identified biotechnology, which includes stem cell research, as one of the core technologies to facilitate the transformation from developing country into a fully industrialised nation. As human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research is contentious, it is argued that it is necessary for the Malaysian government to consider adopting a strict regulatory framework, which includes comprehensive legislation, to govern the research. However, in the formulation of tight regulation, it is important to achieve consensus on the research which is difficult in this multi-religious nation where there are different perspectives of the different faiths on the research.
Religious views have been prominent in debates and reports on cloning and stem cell research, especially in the western world. 1 They are informed by ethical, theological and legal issues. The debate on the moral status of the human embryo is closely linked to philosophical and religious perspectives on the subject of HESC research.
Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, as provided in Article 3 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia which reads: "Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation." The majority of Malaysia's population is Muslim and there are also large numbers of adherents of other faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism. 2
This article explores the different perspectives of these main religions and the following challenges are noted. First, HESC research raises issues of deep [End Page 182] religious significance. Second, within a society, there is religious diversity. Third, this problem is accentuated by the fact that there is no single authoritative voice that speaks for the religion as this involves making interpretations of holy texts that may lead to conflicting ones. Fourth, scientific advances have reached a stage where much modern biomedical research is new both theoretically and in practice, unimaginable when the ancient sacred texts were written. With the emergence of modern developments like HESC research, new orientations to theological/religious texts are required.
Interviews were conducted with representatives of each of these religions which included religious leaders, religious scholars, a pastor, priests and monks. The interviewees expressed their views with references to sacred texts that embody the wisdom of their religion. 3 It is noted that it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in considerable detail the various perspectives for each of the five religions.
The Islamic Perspective
Islam is a monotheistic religion with a belief in one God. Its teachings provide a complete and comprehensive way of life, 4 encompassing "all fields of human endeavours, spiritual and material, individual and societal, economics and politics, national and international". 5 The instructions regulating a Muslim's daily activities, shariah/Islamic law/jurisprudence, apply to all Muslims, everywhere and at all times. As bioethical deliberations are inseparable from religion, Islamic bioethics is decided in accordance with shariah. As a dynamic and relevant entity, it also applies to contemporary emerging biotechnologies including HESC research.
Islamic scholars believe that knowledge emanates from God and, as such, human beings have an obligation to use the knowledge to serve society. 6 Its followers have obligations to seek knowledge, in particular scientific knowledge. The Muslim world attempts to keep at the cutting edge of science. The first verse of the Quran to Prophet Mohammad was: "Read! In the name of your Lord, who has created. Has created man from alaqa". 7
Moral Status of the Human Embryo
For centuries, Muslim scholars have discussed issues of ruh/soul. In the past four decades, this issue has been addressed in the context of increasingly successive scientific developments and advances in biomedical topics including [End Page 183] birth control, abortion, in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), research on embryos, embryo banking, stem cell research and genetic engineering. The Quran, which was revealed by Allah to Prophet Mohammad, is the primary source of teachings for Muslims. The Hadith, which contains the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, is the second most important source of teachings. 8
Like Catholicism and Judaism, Islam recognises the concept of ensoulment and the status...