As Benjamin Hurlbut advises, societal consensus on gene-editing applications should draw from “diverse traditions of thought” (Nature 565, 135; 2019). Given that Muslims make up one-quarter of the global community today, we offer an Islamic perspective to enrich the discussion on the ethical issues arising from the birth of CRISPR gene-edited human twins last year.
Research methodology in traditional Islamic scholarship uses five principles to resolve such ethical dilemmas. The first, Qasd, relates to intention — valid in this case, if the aim was to improve social welfare by protecting the twins against transmission of HIV from their infected father. The second principle, Yaqin, concerns certainty; however, the long-term safety of CRISPR technology is uncertain. The third, Darar, alludes to the avoidance of injury; here, the balance of risk and benefit to the twins and their progeny is not yet understood, and so the parents’ consent was not properly informed. The fourth, Darura, refers to necessity — questionable in this case, because established and safe alternatives exist for protecting people from HIV. The final principle, Urf, relates to custom — in this instance, to the social context and acceptance of using the technology; and the public is uneasy about gene editing.
This philosophy provided the ethical compass that allowed science to flourish during the middle ages in the Islamic civilization, on which Western science partly stands today (see, for example, J. Al-Khalili Nature 518, 164–165; 2015).
Nature 566, 455 (2019)