When The Female Infant


Islamic Medicine
Staff member

Omar Alfi, and Maher Hathout,

Recent technological advances in genetics made it possible to examine and diagnose certain disorders in the fetus during the first few months of pregnancy. The rationale in these tests is based on the fact that the fetus sheds into the amniotic fluid large numbers of cells from its skin, respiratory tract, urinary ystem and others. If we obtain a small sample of the amniotic fluid (a process known as amnio entesis), we obtain a number of these fetal cells, and in fact they carry the same genetic information as the fetus. By examining these cells we may diagnose any chromosomal abnormality, many metab lic disorders, and a wide variety of malformations that might be affecting the fetus. A byproduct of these xaminations is identifying sex of the baby even if we do not intend to do so.

These tests started in the US around 1970 and the demand grew-rapidly. In 1980, over 25,000 tests were erformed. Pregnant mothers request the test to find out if their baby is affected by a severe mal- format on or mental retardation, and if so, a therapeutic abortion is usually planned to get rid of the defectiefetus.

Recently, a new trend appeared. Some parents started to request this test without a medical indication, but only to identify the sex of the fetus and accordingly to make their choice: Keeping the sex they want and aborting the undesired one. Genetic centers all over the United States have resisted this direction. However, as a result of increasing pressure by society, and the encouragement of this direction b a number of well known ethics leaders on the assumption that this is an expression of personal freedo and that parents are free to choose the sex of their future baby, the numbers of these tests started to increase noticeably.

The preliminary observations indicated clearly that in these cases in which the amniocentesis is done for sex choice, it is almost invariably the male that is retained and the female aborted.

From the Islamic point of view, Islam encourages us to explore the unknown and puts no limits or restrict ons on scientific exploration, yet the application of scientific progress should fall within these Islami teachings. Science, to the Moslem, is not just knowledge that could be applied in whatever way, good or bad, but knowledge that humans should use-by the will of God- to enrich life and humanity toward the ideal Islamic model. Accordingly, we look at this new scientific development from three angles.

First: The topic of ...and He knows what's in the womb. Some naives have used the topic of amniocentesis o deny the presence of God claiming that we can know the sex of the fetus, a privilege that was attribu ed to God only. This kind of argument reminds us of Gagarin's logic when he said that he went up to the sky in a rocket and did not see God. It also reminds us of the logic of Pharoah ordering Haman build him a high tower so that he might climb up and look at the God of Moses. Our knowledge of that is In the womb" is relatively trivial, while God's knowledge is all encompassing.

Second: he topic of abortion. It is not intended to dicuss the issue of abortion in this review, but only to mentio briefly the Islamic point of view. Islamic scholars differ in the extent of the situations where an exce tion to the rule could be allowed but they all invariably agree that abortion involves the waste of a life that has been created by God, accordingly it is sinful unless there is a legitimate medical indication.

Third: Th great similarity between this new practice of prenatal testing for sex choice and the "Wa'd" that was practised in the pre-Islamic ..Era of Ignorance". Both are basically the same with minor superficial differences, mostly in time and in approach. Both, however, involve killing after knowing the sex of the bab .Both are based on preference of one sex over the other among what God has created. Both are in de iance of God's will Who created us as male and female. Both involve termination of the life of a female with out consideration of her rights, her will or her chances to grow and interact with society.

One rmay wonder what science has done and what religion has done in the life of humans. Science has dazzled o r eyes and gained our admiration without enriching our values or humanitarian feelings. It only changed he approach and made it more sophisticated. From a theological point of view, this issue may be handled by the current Islamic thought in two different directions, or schools of thought. The first claims that reli?ion made its impact alone the centuri.es and that the current Islamic movement proceeds from where our ancestors have ended, In a sequential historic change and that the 'Era of Ignorance' was only an historic era that ended by the appearance of Islam. The second school of thought says that the Era of Ignorance" is not an historic stage, but a state of mind and that an individual could be living in the Era of Ignorance even though he was born in the 20th Century, and accordingly the Islamic movement should follow the same style of the early Islamic movement including the stage of .'Oarel- -Arkam", to i migration, to Jihad". We are not going to discuss any of these two schools of thought. We simply pose our topic today to the scholars of both schools to enrich the dialogue and to show an example of some kinds of issues and problems that will impose themselves on the current Islamic schools of tho ght and that will force the Islamic thought to take a stand, especially since we now see that Islam js b ck to being a "stranger as it started a stranger".