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Human Cloning from Shia Jurisprudential Point of View, Part 1

Cloning is of two types: therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning would involve cloning cells from a human for use in medicine and transplants. Reproductive cloning would involve making an entire cloned human, instead of just specific cells or tissues. The second type is of two forms: sometimes it is for having multiple pregnancy, and sometimes it is for creating an identical embryo of a person whose cell is inserted into an enucleated egg of a woman.

What follows is an interview with Ayatollah Muhammad Muʼmin[1]

Q: as you are a distinguished jurisprudential figure and have a good record on newly-arisen issues, you are familiar with human cloning, a newly-arisen issue which has provoked a lot of controversies. While the scholars generally outlaw human cloning or [at least] do not accept it, Shi’a scholars present a different view in relation to the Sunni and Christian ones. Though not all Shi’a jurists have expressed their idea regarding the issue, those who have presented their opinions mostly have the same view. You have the same view too, but with more specific and sometimes more precise arguments. The first question that comes to mind is that, is there any evidence to make human cloning haram?

A: That is really nice of you, but I am just a simple Islamic seminarian. A few years ago, the Supreme Leader appointed a group of scholars to study and discuss the controversial subjects in the Muslim world. Human cloning was one of those issues which I was supposed to do a research on it and afterward, I published a paper on the issue.

Cloning is of two types: therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning would involve cloning cells from a human for use in medicine and transplants. Reproductive cloning would involve making an entire cloned human, instead of just specific cells or tissues. The second type is of two forms: sometimes it is for having multiple pregnancy, and sometimes it is for creating an identical embryo of a person whose cell is inserted into an enucleated egg of a woman.

Of course, that is how the cloning and its types are described to me. I am referring to others because explaining the subject matter is not a jurisprudential work; instead, a jurist issues his fatwas or presents his views for different subjects considering the features that are described to him by the experts. So I studied a lot about the issue and I got some help from an expert who was a manager in a related institution.

Before discussing the legality of cloning, it is better to give a quick explanation of its different forms. In one form of cloning, which is for the purpose of multiple pregnancy, after an egg is fused with the sperma diploid cell, the zygote, is formed which splits into two daughter cells. Then a series of consecutive cell divisions (cleavages) occur, and the number of cells is doubled at each division which stops when the number of divided cells (blastomeres) reaches 32, from where these similar and attached cells gradually develop into human organs. Before the number reaches 32, for example when it is 8,the layer which covers the cells is removed, and the blastomeres are segregated from each other, then every cell is covered by an artificial layer. So, instead of one covered cell, there are, for example, 8 new covered cells, which if are put in a fitting environment to feed and grow, every one of them behaves as though a fertilized egg and starts to divide again and develop into an embryo resulting in multiple pregnancy of 8 similar babies. It is the same story in animals.

In the other type of cloning the nucleus of a somatic cell is taken from a donor, weather man or woman, and transplanted into the enucleated egg (cytoplasm) of a woman. The hybrid cell is cultured and developed into an embryo.

In the first form of cloning the zygote is multiplied and the similarity is between the resulting babies, while in the second form there is no proliferation of fertilized cell and the similarity is between the resulting baby and the cell donor.

Two points in cloning are arguable from the jurisprudential approach. The first point is about touching and looking at who is non-mahram (mahram is a very close relative with whom marriage is prohibited, and there are some restrictions concerning physical contact with those who are not mahram). This issue is out of our dissuasion supposing that the man and woman are a married couple, and one of them is a geneticist and can go through the cloning process personally. So, as there is a consensus among the husband and wife, there would be no any jurisprudential problem regarding the issues like consent of the donor, and touching and looking at each other.

The second point is about permissibility and impermissibility of human cloning, qua human cloning. Most scholars consider that it is haram (prohibited);however, this prohibition is mostly because of its harmful consequences, and many scholars could be of the opinion that the cloning in itself is permitted. According to our point of view, it does not make sense to prohibit the very act of cloning because there is no any jurisprudential evidence which shows that reprogramming a zygote – which still is not developed enough to be recognized as a human being, so the misgiving of murder or execution is prevented – is haram. Also, there is no any legal objection to expelling the egg from uterus even when it is aimless or results in its annihilation, and its potential for becoming a human being does not make the ejection haram. Even the cases like permissibility of coitus interruptus in Islam show that the likely capability of semen to becoming a human being does not make its withdrawal unlawful. There is no any legal evidence confining the use of egg in a way that results in an embryo. Thus, if we expel the egg, even without any reasonable purpose, not only there is no reason to prohibit it, but the rule of ḥillīyah[2] (everything is halal except those excluded by a legal reason), as well as the jurisprudentially approved principle of barāʼah[3](the presumption of innocence, in the sense that one is not guilty of any action that the Sharia has no opinion on it),signify its permissibility.

Likewise, there is no any legal proof to prohibit driving out a cell from a donor (assuming that he is the husband of the woman whose egg is used for cloning to avoid any likely objection) to fuse it into the enucleated egg. It is permitted even when there is no sensible use for the extracted cell, not to mention when it is extracted for a reasonable aim.

Therefore we have no legal reason to prohibit either extracting the cell nor inserting it into the enucleated egg for in vitro fertilization.

Q: as God has the exclusive right to create; is not cloning considered as taking the work of God into our own hands?

A:resorting to some verses of the Holy Quran, one may say that the Creator and Lord of everything is God and the issues like cloning are antithetical to these verses, in other words, cloning is like becoming co-creator with God. Such objections are obviously nonsense. Our development in science that has brought the capability of cloning to us, like all human actions, is attributed to God. It is God who has granted us knowledge and the ability to develop it and find out how to clone. Everything, including all our acts, is God’s creation. The cell, enucleated egg, insemination, growing zygote, the instruments applied for cloning progress, etc. all are created by God, whether directly or indirectly. All the causes and effects are originated from God’s power. In fact, everything is God’s action, and He is the real doer of every act, and we are only the agents who do things by His permission [though of our own free will]. So cloning is not being co-creator with God, and it is not against the verses of the Holy Quran regarding Unity of Divine Acts and the frequently narrated hadiths from the holy infallibles (a.s).

Consequently, there is no any reason for prohibiting cloning, qua cloning, in jurisprudence. From the jurisprudential perspective, none of the steps in cloning progress, whether extracting and enucleating the egg, or removing cell and fusing it into the enucleated egg, or developing the combined egg; bring into question any Islamic belief.

Q: cloning has some inevitable corollaries which are definitely haram; do not these haram consequences make the very act of cloning haram?

A:one may say that if the progress is done by a non-mahram, and the egg is taken from a woman other than his wife, the cloning would be haram because looking at and touching a non-mahram is haram, which means the cloning itself is basically haram. However, on reflection, we realize that the halal act is mistaken for the haram one in this case. I accept that the issues like touching and looking at a non-mahram are haram, but if we find a way to avoid such haram acts in cloning progress, the cloning would be no forbidden anymore. So what is haram is different from cloning, which does not turn cloning, qua cloning, into a haram act.

Q: for outlawing the human cloning, one may present an argument consist of two premises. The first premise is that cloning has faced scholars’ strict opposition and has raised vast popular protest all around the world, whether by Christians or Jews or Muslims, who are afraid of its consequences and the change that it makes in social relationships, especially in the case of mass production. The second premise is that God shows more prudence in the important issues like blood and sex that raise negative reactions. So we can extend the reasons for precaution to human cloning and avoid it because of its risks and endangerments.

A: none of the above-mentioned premises arguably results in the prohibition of cloning. The first premise indicates the dangers that are not definite. At the most, if there is a reasonable possibility of endangerment in mass production, only this kind of cloning must be prohibited. Nevertheless, the likely risks should be studied, because sometimes new things look dangerous for being new and unfamiliar, just like many new inventions at their early stage. Then what is the harm in inventing new things? New inventions are not dangerous; in fact, the danger is in the issues that the Sharia prohibits from. Regarding the second premise, the claim of “precaution against blood and sex” and its comparison to cloning, both are under question and need more consideration.



[1]– Ayatollah Muhammad Mu᾽men (born in 1940, Qom, Iran) is a Faqīh (jurist) and a member of the Guardian Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He simultaneously sits on the Expediency Discernment Council and the Assembly of Experts for Leadership. He is the member of the Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, as well as the Ahlulbayt (a.s) World Assembly.

He has benefited from many prominent scholars such as: Imam Khomeini, late Ayatollah MuhaqqiqDāmād, Ayatollah Sheikh MurtaḍāḤā᾽irī, and Sayid Muhammad Husain Ṭabāṭabā᾽ī.

He has held various significant posts after the Islamic revolution of Iran including: 1- Appointed by Imam Khomeini as the in charge of selecting Islamic judges and sending them to the Islamic Revolutionary Courts of the country.  2- The head of The Islamic Revolutionary Supreme Court. 3- A member of the Supreme Judicial Council. 4- The head of Qom Seminary from 1993 to 1996.

[2]– کُلّ شئ حلال.

[3]– اصالۀ البرائۀ.

About Ali Teymoori

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