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The Koran and Cloning

By  Dr. Munawar Ahmed Anees

[Dr. Anees is a Consultant to the Templeton Foundation. A biologist by training (Doctorate: Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA), his regular contributions in the monthly Inquiry: A Magazine of Events and Ideas (London, 1984-1988), have played a pioneering role in creating an awareness about the social impact of reproductive technologies. One of his books, Islam and Biological Futures: Ethics, Gender, and Technology (London: Mansell, 1989; translations in Turkish, Bosnian, and Bahasa Indonesia) has brought the problems of surrogate motherhood, abortion, and genetic engineering to the forefront of contemporary discourse across the Muslim world.]

Cloning raises all the age-old questions about life, but in a new mold. Is our body only a bundle of genes, tissues and organs? What is a person? What is the relation of the body to the spirit? In the Cartesian duality of mind and matter, how far can one go denying the link between organic composition and existential identity?

Most worrisome of all, cloning forecloses genetic variability. It reinforces the values of genetic determinism because it poses a threat to individuality and diversity through identical replication.

Here the good old nature-nurture debate is in for a real shock. Cloning imposes a deterministic blueprint of bodily development, but cannot furnish the nurturing component of the person. In no small measure genetic determinism is the antithesis of moral and ethical choice.

Where, with cloning, is the boundary between nature and nurture when the pre-selective hand of man reaches into the variety of combinant possibilities and makes his choice?

Choice brings us to the much-contested debate on parental rights vs. fetal rights. The issue gets even murkier than with the early stages of embryonic development when the long arm of in-utero genetic manipulation becomes part of the picture.

For instance, we can be nothing but mute on the risk of inherited disorders and the ability to fight disease in a person born of a frozen-and-thawed cloned embryo. Similarly, do parents have a right to deliberately alter the genetic endowment of a future child? Will that future child make a retroactive claim for damages inflicted through pre-birth genetic selection?

And what about the market? In the biological bazaar, one is naggingly familiar with shopping for commodities like blood, sperm, ovum or organs. Cloning gives a new meaning to the human body as merchandise. Instead of being content with the organ parts it would acquire novel techniques for wholesaling, packaging and marketing made-to-order clones.

In its instrumental mode, cloning will become an agent of commercial exploitation very much like the rent-a-womb syndrome from which we already suffer.

If success with the transgenic animals--where defective genes have been replaced so as to prevent the symptoms of an inherited disease--is any yardstick, then there is nothing whimsical about the idea of conducting business through a mail order catalog where the genetic map of possibilities offers wide consumer choice. The only question is cash or charge?

THE KORAN ON CLONES | In the Muslim consciousness the body is the medial, or middle ground, where the world of spirit and matter meet. It is the pivot around which one's world revolves. In Islam, there is neither an idea of "rights" over one's body nor an "ownership" of the body in the Western sense of the word. For a Muslim, the body is a trust from God. It is neither a solely owned property nor a disposable commodity. Hence the interdiction against suicide. The temporary possession of the body does not imply its ownership by the possessor. The ritual prayer one recites at the death of a person comes as a vivid reminder: "He alone grants life and deals death; and unto Him You all must return,"(Koran 10:56).

Notwithstanding some Muslims whose mislaid zeal appears to portray the Koran as a book of human embryology, there are verses aplenty that point to a normative guidance on human creation. Let us read a sample: "We have created [every one of] you out of dust, then out of a drop of sperm, then out of a germ-cell, then out of an embryonic lump complete [in itself] and yet incomplete, so that We might make [your origin] clear unto you. And whatever We will [to be born] We cause to rest in the [mother's] womb for a term set [by Us]" (Koran 22:5). Another verse reads: "Was he not once a [mere] drop of a sperm that had been split, and thereafter became a germ-cell--whereupon He created and formed [it] in accordance with what [it] was meant to be, and fashioned out of the two sexes, the male and the female?" (Koran 75:37-8).

The Koranic paradigm of human creation, it would appear, preempts any move toward cloning. From the moment of birth to the point of death, the entire cycle is a divine act. Humankind is simply an agent, a trustee of God. The body is a trust from God. In the absence of a Koranic axiom on body as property, genetic intervention would appear to be quite unethical.

On the utilitarian side of the corporeal possession, Muslims are exhorted--as a ritualistic obligation--to keep this trust in good shape. Given that cloning is an asexual experience (in the sense that it is performed within the legal marital bonds; no extramarital genetic boundaries are crossed and the genetic endowment is only from the spouses), its prohibition must be judged against Islamic ethical norms.

For instance, unlike Catholic strictures, Islam sanctions therapeutic abortion in cases of a genuine clinical condition, that is, impending danger to a mother's life. Would cloning offer an analogous condition?

We can think of only one possible scenario: pre-natal corrective genetic intervention, provided there exists a clinical justification. Our reasoning for this assertion takes root in the body-as-trust paradigm and the ensuing responsibility for its care as the duty of every Muslim woman and man.

The arrogance of Western science has never been greater than when it crossed the boundary of cloning. Does cloning represent the malevolence of the rebellious? Is it the vengeful self-perpetuation of those who would defy God? The human body is God's property, not man's laboratory. To abuse God's trust will only lead to a catastrophe of the human essence.



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