RI takes middle ground on stem-cell cloning
Dewi Santoso, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
As western countries debate the controversial issue of stem-cell cloning, Indonesia has come to a uniform decision on the country's standing on the issue.
The health ministry's head of research and development, Dini Latief, said on Monday that Indonesia took the middle ground in responding to the controversy.
"We're not 100 percent against it, but we're not 100 percent for it either, as we are yet to see the purpose of stem-cell cloning," said Dini.
She said that if the purpose of stem-cell cloning was to create another human being of identical DNA, then Indonesia would strongly reject it.
"But, if the purpose of stem-cell cloning is for therapeutic use, then the country is for it, if the cells cloned are not those of a living creature, such as an embryo," she said.
Stem cells are undifferentiated, primitive cells in the bone marrow that have the ability both to multiply and to differentiate into any type of cell in the body, including nerve cells, heart cells and kidney cells.
Stem-cell cloning is a procedure whereby the cells -- extracted from an egg after it has divided for five days -- are taken and their genetic information at the nucleus reinvigorated, so that new tissue can be grown with a genetic code that matches the patient who needs it.
The growing cells might be used to replace brain cells that have been damaged by Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, or replace the injured spinal cord of a paraplegic.
However, the extraction process destroys the embryo, which sparks a variety of ethical concerns.
Dini said that Indonesia's position on embryonic stem cells was clear: "We're against it, as it destroys a human life."
Chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI) Farid A Moeloek, confirmed Dini's argument, stating that both the IDI and the Medical Code of Ethics Committee banned embryonic stem-cell cloning.
"We reject embryonic stem-cell cloning because an embryo is considered to be alive, and we believe that we should not kill something that is living," Farid told The Jakarta Post.
However, the IDI supports stem-cell cloning when it comes to the use of bone barrow or placenta.
"This procedure does not take someone's life as it requires cells from a person's bone marrow or the placenta of a baby. We approve of it because it will help restore damaged cells, giving hope to those who suffer from fatal diseases, like leukemia, or those whose spinal cords have been damaged," he said.
Philosopher Franz Magnis Suseno agreed with Farid, saying embryonic stem-cell cloning was a violation of the right to live.
"Taking into account that all stem cells are human lives in process, then embryonic stem-cell cloning is not permissible, either for productive or therapeutic purposes," said Magnis-Suseno of the Driyarkara School of Philosophy.
He said stem-cell cloning using a baby's placenta or a person's bone marrow was acceptable, as long as the procedure did not take someone's life and was performed for a therapeutic cause.
A member of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), Amidhan, said that embryonic stem-cell cloning was considered haram (forbidden under Islamic law).
"It (embryonic stem-cell cloning) is basically murder, as doctors or scientists have to destroy an embryo," he said.
Allowing embryonic stem-cell cloning would be akin to allowing cannibalism, he added.
"You have to kill someone to help another. It's the practice of cannibalism and it's haram," he said.
Stem-cell cloning has sparked controversy globally. Britain is the first country in Europe to approve the use of human cloning to produce embryonic stem cells for medical purposes.