- Gamete Donation:Ethical Divergences in Islamic Religious Thinking
Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ARTs) have been a revolution in infertility treatment around the world. The birth of Louise Brown, the first “test tube” baby, in 1978 through in-vitro fertilisation was a breakthrough in the procreation process. For the last 30 years, this technology has been more widely used in infertility treatment and, so far, more than two million babies have been born using this technology worldwide (Samani, Moalem, Merghati, and Alizadeh 2009). This treatment is also practised in the Muslim world where Islamic morality plays a dominant role, by accepting some practices of ARTs and rejecting others. One of the major areas of rejection and controversy is third-party donation (Atighhetchi 2000; Larijani and Zahedi 2007; Serour and Dickens 2001). In most Muslim countries, ARTs have been practised according to the religious norms and ruling, whereas in the Western countries and the rest of the world, ARTs are being practised by the rules and regulations of each individual country. The Islamic religious ruling, called fatwa in Arabic, is being enunciated by prominent religious scholars on current issues in Islam and has also a greater impact on ARTs (Inhorn 2011). After the introduction of ARTs, many prominent Islamic scholars and religious associations individually and collectively from the two major denominations in Islam, Sunni and Shia, proclaimed religious decrees on ARTs around the Islamic [End Page 23] world. These rulings surrounding ARTs and gamete donation are quite divergent. The present article is an attempt to analyse the positions and ethical concerns of Sunni and Shia Muslims concerning gamete donation. I shall also try to identify the reasons for the divergences surrounding gamete donation and assess the basis of the different views on gamete donation.
Background Concepts of Ethical Divergences of Gamete Donation in Islamic Thinking
It is pertinent to mention some of the fundamental ideas and background information, before I elaborate on the divergent views on gamete donation in Islamic thinking, in order to conceptualise Islamic thinking on gamete donation.
Like all other major religions, Islam is also a religion with great diversities. Islamic diversities encompass different denominations, theological and philosophical schools, legal schools, spiritual tradition and multitudes of different practices (Inhorn and Sargent 2006). The differences arise in Islam because of the interpretation of Islamic main sources, namely the Quran, the Hadith, the application of analogy with the Quran and the Hadith, and intellectual reasoning (Atighetchi 2000).
Sunni and Shia are the two major denominations in Islam. Sunni Islam consists of nearly 90 per cent of the Muslim population predominant in more than 50 Muslim countries, mainly in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Shia, on the other hand, is dominant in Iran. A large number of Shia also live in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Bahrain, and Pakistan (Moghimehfar and Nasr-Esfahani 2011). Islamic laws, which are based on the four major Islamic sources, guide the activities of Muslims (Atighetchi 2000). Sunni Islam has no official religious authority like Catholicism, but religious scholars in Sunni Muslims world generally promulgate verdicts called fatwas in religious matters and ethical issues, which have an enormous impact on Muslims. On the other hand, the Shia Muslims have their own official religious authority within their own community. However, both the Sunni and the Shia religious scholars are not always unanimous in many religious and ethical issues such as the usage of reproductive technologies.
Concerning ethics, there are fundamental differences between the Western and Islamic worlds. There is a clear distinction between ethics and religion in the Western societies. Western ethics are based on moral, philosophical and religious ideals, social customs and traditions, which can vary among countries and societies, whereas in Muslim societies there is no clear distinction between [End Page 24] religious norms and ethical values (Aboulghar, Serour, and Mansour 2007). What is right from an Islamic point of view is considered ethical, and what is wrong in the light of Islam is regarded unethical or immoral. In Islam, the ethical reflection can be done in those areas where there is no clear religious ruling. ARTs fall in those areas where there is no clear...