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Blog: Genome Ethics – Islamic Perspectives on the Next Medical Revolution

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Blog: Genome Ethics – Islamic Perspectives on the Next Medical Revolution

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Following his presentation to the Research Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics, earlier this month, Dr Trevor Stammers reflects on the Christian and Islamic ethical issues discussed.

The Research Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics, sponsored by the generosity of the Qatar Foundation, invited me to present a Christian view on genomic editing at their conference entitled “The Genomic Question and Islamic Ethics” during the first week of April.

I was privileged to be one of a small number of participants from Europe and was fascinated by the large overlap of the ethical issues discussed in my own paper and in those of my Islamic colleagues.

Genome editing in adults with specific diseases caused by single gene mutations holds out real promise for cures with very little ethical concerns other than those common to the introduction of new treatments and such gene editing therapy is to be welcomed and developed.

With regard to the new ethical issues facing us in the field of genomics today, let alone the potential ones not far away, there was much to discuss about ethical dilemmas involved. Just a small selection of the issues covered during the three days of the conference were:

  • The recent successful births of a ‘three parent’ boy in Mexico and a ‘four parent’ girl in Ukraine by mitochondrial manipulation of a donor egg and embryo respectively
  • The issues arising from early diagnosis of genetic abnormality such as Down’s syndrome by a maternal blood test and whether the aim of eliminating the condition, as Iceland has almost done, is an ethical goal or not
  • Increasing global sex selection abortion made possible by sex determination from a maternal blood test. The current ratio of four men to one woman of reproductive age in China, caused principally by sex selection abortion, led to a headline in the world news during the conference of a man in China who has married a robot because there were not enough women
  • The entry of meat from genetically engineered livestock into the food chain and its possible adverse effects on human health
  • Whether disclosure of ‘incidental findings’ on genetic profiling should be disclosed to the patient or not – such incidental findings could include for example, the discovery that the father of a child is not in fact the biological father – an issue causing great concern in the Islamic world particularly with its emphasis on the importance of lineage

With regard to the theological approaches from an Islamic and Christian perspective, there were four main areas of commonality in the conference presentations:

  • The seriousness of commitment to understanding scriptural texts and how to interpret them
  • The marked differences even between scholars of the same faith in their interpretations and often their conclusions about an appropriate ethical response
  • The accounts of creation and the Fall in both the Koran and the Bible being crucial to our theological anthropologies
  • The aporetic component of our understanding of religious texts

The conference proceedings will be published in due course but my abiding memory of this conference will be one of realisation that Muslim healthcare professionals, philosophers and religious scholars wrestle every bit as much as Christian ones with the issues presented by the genomic revolution which will only accelerate over the next few years.

There is much to be gained by working together where possible on ethical solutions and even where it is not possible, then at least clearly understanding the other’s viewpoint as to why we differ.

The Genomic Question and Islamic Ethics Conference
Image: The Genomic Question and Islamic Ethics Conference
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