Using stem cells in scientific experiments
We have reviewed inquiry no. 1401 for the year 2008, which includes the following:
We conduct experiments as part of our research on stem cells. These include isolating live adult stem cells extracted from laboratory animals such as rabbits and goats. The cells are then allowed to differentiate into various cell types and are afterwards put back inside the same animals' live bodies to study their effect on cell engineering and renewal. If these experiments are successful, they will be conducted on humans. Human adult stem cells will be taken from patients and then returned inside the bodies of the same patients after taking the necessary medical procedures—i.e. obtaining the patients' consent to conduct this experiment on them for treatment.
Stem cells are cells that have the potential to divide and give rise to many different kinds of specialized cells that form the various body tissues. Scientist recently succeeded in identifying these cells, isolating them, and growing them to treat some diseases.
What is the ruling for this?
Sources of stem cells
Stem cells can be obtained from:
• Miscarried embryos (at any stage of development);
• placentas and umbilical cords;
Conducting scientific researches on animals
It is permissible to conduct stem cell researches and to experiment on animals for the benefit of humans. God made animals subject to man and for his benefit. He says:
"Do you not see that God has made subject to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth" (Quran 31:20).
Likewise, if God has made it permissible to slaughter various kinds of animals for food, then the permissibility of using animals in scientific experiments to benefit mankind is given more precedence, since the benefit derived from the knowledge acquired from experimenting on animals is greater than that of eating their flesh.
Criteria for permissibility
The permissibility of experimenting on animals is contingent upon treating them with mercy and avoiding as much as possible exposing them to undue pain and suffering. There are many hadiths urging Muslims to show mercy to animals:
Shadād ibn Aws, may God be pleased with him, narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "I learned two things from the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) who said, God has decreed benevolence in everything you do. So if you kill (an animal), then kill it well, and if you slaughter (an animal), then slaughter it well [i.e. causing the animal as little pain and suffering as possible]" (Muslim).
The Messenger of God also said: "He who is deprived of mercy will be deprived of all benevolence" (Muslim and Abū Dawūd. The hadith is in Abū Dawūd's words).
̓Abdullah ibn ̓Umar narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "God will not show mercy to a person who does not show mercy. Show mercy to those on earth that you may be shown mercy by the One in the Heavens" (al-Tirmidhi and others).
There is nothing in Islamic law that forbids taking stem cells from a sick person and using it for his treatment. However, this procedure is subject to the following conditions:
• It must not pose any harm.
• If the patient is an adult and sane, he must give his consent
• If he is not, consent must be obtained from his guardian.
Islamic law urges treatment and medication
Usama ibn Sharīk narrated that: "I approached the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and all the companions were attentive to his words. I greeted him and then sat down. Then Bedouins from all directions came in and said, 'O Messenger of God! Should we seek medication and treatment for our illnesses?' He replied, "Yes, seek treatment because God did not make a disease without making a cure for it except for one disease—old age" (al-Tirmidhī and Abū Dawūd. This hadith is in the words of Abū Dawūd).
This hadith urges Muslims to utilize medication and treatment without imposing any restrictions. And the principle (in Islamic law) is that general rulings must be left general until a ruling comes along to restrict them. Imam al-Khatābī said: "This hadith establishes the validity of medicine and treatment and that seeking treatment is permissible and not disliked.”
We base our opinion on the permissibility of seeking treatment in the manner outlined in the question on the general ruling derived from the hadith above. Whoever refutes this opinion is required to provide proof to substantiate his opinion.
God Almighty knows best.