Call for the inclusion of Muslims in the debate on the ethics of stem cells

The voices of religious communities, especially Muslims, are relatively silent in the global discourse on stem cell ethics, say experts in the field of stem cell research, as they call for the inclusion of Muslim perspectives on the issue so that guidelines and regulations can speak to all contexts participating in or benefiting from research.

With developments in stem cell technology, a fully functional heart or laboratory-prepared liver to replace diseased organs may not remain a distant possibility. Scientists from different parts of the world are pursuing this ambitious goal by using stem cells, the raw material from which other cells develop.

But this promising journey is not as easy as it sounds, as the conduct and application of stem cell research is ethically far more challenging and complex than other health science disciplines.

Questions about the acquisition of stem cells and their potential use or misuse concern all communities around the world. Therefore, global ethical forums, guidelines and regulations are in place to closely monitor developments in stem cell research. The degree to which these international forums include voices from diverse backgrounds remains debatable.

A recent article published in Stem Cell Reports points out that the voices of religious communities, especially Muslims, are relatively silent in the global discourse on stem cell ethics.

The authors of the article, who are members of an international ethics think tank, anticipate that this inclusion can enhance understanding of ethical issues, improve global guidelines and regulations, enhance public engagement in debates on ethics and policy-making, and enable wider participation in Knowledge Societies.

“Religion provides the moral compass for addressing ethical issues in science and medicine for religious communities,” says Professor El-Nasir Lalani, Professor Emeritus at the Aga Khan University and one of the contributors to the article.

The representation of religious communities in policy-making is crucial, especially when contested sources such as human embryos are used in stem cell research, say the authors.

“International ethical guidelines are currently based on mainstream approaches to bioethics, which are largely dominated by a principle-based approach that considers itself universal,” the document states. “Nominally secular, this approach has a deep historical debt to the Western Christian tradition.

Given this inherent bias and the growing participation of Muslim countries in stem cell science, the authors call for consciously expanding the participation of thought leaders from the Muslim world in global discussions.

How will this be?

Recognizing the diversity of Muslim countries, the authors believe that Muslim scientists, ethicists, lawyers, policy makers, religious scholars and the public must first proactively engage in deliberations within their own countries. to build consensus around ethical issues in stem cell research. . Governments and higher education institutions in these countries must create internal opportunities for these stakeholders to come together to understand each other’s work and collectively seek answers to complex ethical issues.

Without sufficient duties, it would be difficult for Muslim societies to develop regulations appropriate to their diverse contexts that can help improve or shape international guidelines.

Meanwhile, government forums and international standards-forming bodies such as the International Society for Stem Cell Research can include opinion leaders, researchers and scientists from Muslim societies in developing and communicating guidelines for stem cell research.

Broadening the scope of international dialogue could encourage the largely absent public debate and participation in policy-making in Muslim countries. Increased engagement can cultivate public trust and guard against unapproved and potentially harmful stem cell therapies.

Including Muslims in conversations can help develop a common moral understanding allowing for greater compliance with international guidelines. Finally, it can raise the standards of science policies and practices and encourage greater participation of the Muslim world in the knowledge society. This work is supported by the Aga Khan University Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.

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