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Engineering Babies in Muslim Eyes

Engineering Babies in Muslim Eyes
Germline Gene Therapy (GGT)
A designer baby is a baby that is the result of genetic screening or genetic modification. Embryos may be screened prior to implantation, or possibly gene therapy techniques could be used to create desired traits in a child.

Al -‘Alim (The All-Knowing) is one of the 99 names of Allah found in the Qur’an. However, some modern scientists seem to want to append this title to their own names with a new form of procreation called “germ-line therapy” or “Ooplasmic transfer.”

This new technique caters to infertile women who have defects in their mitochondria, the tiny floating structures within the cell cytoplasm that not only supply the cells with energy, but also, contain as many as 100,000 genes (Laino, p.2 and Whitehouse, p.3).

Germline therapy is based on the understanding that mitochondrial DNA is passed down from generation to generation along the maternal line (Whitehouse, p.2).

Therefore, in this therapy, genes from a fertile woman’s ovum (unfertilized egg) are injected into the infertile woman’s ovum, altering the germline that will be passed on to the offspring (Whitehouse, p.2). This is called Ooplasmic transfer because it is the oocyte that is needed as it undergoes meiosis (the natural process of cell division) producing ovum.

Illegal in Britain, and in many other countries, scientists have confirmed that up to 30 such babies have been born, half of which are the product of an experimental program at a U.S. laboratory (Whitehouse, p.1). In a letter published in the journal Human Reproduction, two of the 15 one year-olds that have had DNA fingerprinting show that they carry a small amount of genetic material not identical to either of their parents. This is because biologically they actually have two mothers and one father (Laino, p.2).

“No other technique is available to these women,” defends Henry E. Malter of the Institute for Reproductive Medicine & Science of Saint Barnabas in New Jersey (Laino, p.3).” Continuing his defense, Malter states that, “There is no genetic modification per se because none of their DNA was changed.

Engineering Babies in Muslim Eyes - About Islam

In germline gene therapy (GGT), germ cells (sperm or eggs) are modified by the introduction of functional genes into their genomes.

There is just extra DNA that has no negative consequences. The only option for these infertile couples would have been to use complete eggs from a donor, rather than just the cytoplasm. But then the offspring would not have been genetically their own” (Laino, p.3).

However, scientists on the other side of the fence argue that this is an irresponsible way to approach the issue of infertility. Infertility pioneer Lord Winston, of Hammersmith Hospital in London, argues that “…there is no evidence that this is a possible valuable treatment for fertility…I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage (Whitehouse, p.3).”

Clinical professor of reproductive medicine at the University of California, Dr. Mark Surrey refers to “…the potential risks to consider,” saying “While the children in the new report appear healthy, countless things could go wrong. Instead of eliminating a problem, you could create a problem” (Laino, p.4).

Arthur Caplan, head of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania argues, “…because it is in the reproductive cells, the modified DNA can be passed to generations to come. But there is a risk that meddling with the germ-line will introduce side effects that will also be passed on to offspring…It’s nice that babies aged 1-2 years are doing well, but what if their mitochondria fail in another couple of years? (Laino, p.2, 3).”

Playing with life takes place on all levels today, but when it enters the bio-physiological domain, it causes on to question the dangers that lurk in the mind-body-spirit cycle. In cryogenics (the science of low-temperature phenomena), scientists have already formed donor ‘egg banks’ for women unable to produce their own oocyte and the provision of egg storage (cryostorage) for women wanting to delay having babies.

Reports from 1998 and 1999 reveal six pregnancies producing ten babies from cryopreserved donor oocytes. This involved frozen donor oocytes post-thawed, not for whole egg donation, but for ooplasmic transfer without consistent success (Tucker, p.1, 2).

The most plentiful source of oocytes is the ovarian tissue, containing many thousands of primordial follicles in healthy tissue. The argument is that such a procedure could benefit women who are about to undergo cancer surgery, women who have a family history of early menopause, and non-malignant diseases like thalassemia or an autoimmune malfunction which could be treated by high-dose chemotherapy (Tucker p.3).

However, the various types of infertility treatments available today have brought up a number of ethical questions such as: accidental marriage between siblings.

Princeton geneticist, Lee M. Silver, warns of other problems in his book, Remaking Eden: Cloning & Beyond in a Brave New World, when he forewarns of a future where upscale baby-making will soon take place in fertility clinics where prospective parents will undergo an IVF procedure to create an embryo, then select the physical, cognitive and behavioral traits they desire for their child-to-be.

Engineering Babies in Muslim Eyes - About Islam

Modifying a germ cell causes all the organism’s cells to contain the modified gene.

Technicians will insert the genes said to produce those traits into the embryo, and implant the embryo in the mother’s womb. Nine months later, a designer baby will be born. After a few centuries of these practices, humanity will separate into 2 genetic groups – the superman and the underclass (of Nietzche’s philosophy)- and not long after into different species (Darnovsky, p.1).

“Say, Who is the Lord of the heavens and the earth? – Say: Allah. Say: Do you take them besides Him guardians who do not control and profit or harm for themselves? Or can the darkness and the light be equal? Or have they set-up with Allah associates who have created creation like His? Say, Allah is the Creator of all things, and He is the One, the Supreme” (Surat Ar-Ra’d 13:16). 

This article was first published in 2014 and is currently republished for its relevance.

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About Hwaa Irfan

Late Hwaa Irfan, may her soul rest in peace, served as consultant, counselor and freelance writer. Her main focus was on traditional healing mechanisms as practiced in various communities, as opposed to Western healing mechanisms.

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