Saudi Arabia is governed strictly by Sharia Law. Before 2010, no legal policy gave guidance on dealing with a living specimen, its parts, and its genetic material in research (Alahmad, 2017). It can be argued that there was a grey area in the use of living organisms in research. In turn, valuable research was avoided or ignored as researchers did not want to be on the wrong side of the law. It suffices to mention, the treatment of living organisms in research in the country is guided purely by their religious beliefs. According to Alireza and Abdulla (2017), the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations was a way for the government to standardize beliefs on how to handle living organisms used in research. First, the policy settles the debate on whether it is ethical for scientists to use living organisms for research purposes. Secondly, the law identifies how such microorganisms are to be treated. This essay analyzes the said law, highlighting some of its merits and demerits. Overall, the article will prove that the introduction of the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations will allow scientists in the region to come up with groundbreaking discoveries particularly in regards to health.
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Use of Living Organisms in Research in Saudi Arabia
Alahmad, Al-Jumah, and Dierickx (2015) clarify that there have been conflicting ideas on the use of living organisms in research in Saudi Arabia. Whereas some scholars argue that the Quran does not allow for the use of living specimens for research purposes, there are those that claim that the Quran does, in fact, support research. Al-Bar and Chamsi-Pasha (2015) state that the Quran encourages the continuous search for knowledge. Thus, to some extent, it supports research. Whether the study requires the use of a rat in a medical lab in a university, or not, is therefore not relevant. Beauchamp and Childress (2015) acknowledge that there are scholars who argue that any form of research that uses living organisms, is unethical according to the Quran. The argument is based on the idea that research is a foreign aspect, introduced by foreigners (Westerners), thus, is not allowed as it was not initiated by a true believer in Islam.
As stated, before 2010, researchers in many countries that are guided by Sharia Law were limited due to a lack of ethical policy and guidelines on the issue. For example, in the early 1900s, Iran banned the use of human cadavers in medical schools in the country. Scientists were forced to sit back and watch as other scientists from across the globe made breaking discoveries that led to the advancement of modern medicine. In Saudi, this changed with the introduction of the established law.
Impact of the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations
The introduction of the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations was a relief to scientists in the region. Not only did they have a guideline to follow, but they saw it as an opportunity to push the boundaries of research. One of the advantages of the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations is the fact that it acts as a bridge between science and religion in the country. Alahmad, Hifnawy, Abbasi, and Dierickx (2016) explain that since the introduction of the law, residents have become more open to taking up advanced treatments on some health conditions, unlike before.
Additionally, the issue of social value has also been addressed through the law. One can argue that the law adheres to both the legal and ethical aspects of Sharia governance. According to the policy, clinical research that involves living organisms should only be done for the survival of society. Towards this end, all clinical researches that involve living organisms have to be reviewed and approved by a select committee put in place (Alahmad, 2017). The burden of proof, however, lies with the researcher. This means that the researcher has to convince the committee of the importance of the research study to society to have it approved.
Suffices to mention, the introduction of the policy also allows for the use of animals in clinical trials. In fact, animals have to be used prior to the use of human subjects. The clarification and approval to use animals for clinical trials is a significant step to ensuring the advancement of modern medicine in the country. Also, the law allows for the just and ethical treatment of all organisms that are used in any research. This ranges from the selection, treatment, and even disposal of the organisms after use. Other factors that have been considered in the policy include informed consent, respect for all subjects in the research processes, and favorable risk and benefit assessments of all research studies before commencement.
The Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations, however, has one major demerit. Due to the strict approval process of researches that requires living organisms, scientists are still limited in their abilities and quest for knowledge. It is, however, understandable that the strict procedures are meant to ensure scientists adhere to their newly found freedom of research. One can only remain hopeful that soon, such systems will be more lenient to allow more scientists the ability to research on various health elements.
According to Alahmad (2017), the law under review has seven ethical requirements for any research that must involve living organisms. The formation of the ethics committee that will oversee such studies is also well detailed. Thus, scientists agree that the law will act as a proper guideline for research that involves the use of living specimens. The additional clause on the use of parts of a living organism and its genetic material makes the law very comprehensive.
In conclusion, the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations was a welcomed relief to scientists in the region. The stated law gives clear guidelines on the ethical use of living specimens in research. Important to note, the use of living organisms in research is primarily associated with medical/clinical trials. Thus, the law allows for scientists in the region to also advance modern medicine. The legislation, which was introduced in 2010, has several merits. First, it protects the living organisms that are to be used in any research process. For example, clinical trials will start with animal specimens before advancing to the human samples. Additionally, several ethical committees have been formed to approve clinical trials by the guidelines given through the Saudi Law of Ethics of Research on Living Creatures and Its Implementing Regulations.
Alahmad, G. (2017). The Saudi law of ethics of research on living creatures and its implementing regulations. Developing World Bioethics, 17(2), 63-69.
Alahmad, G., Al-Jumah, M., & Dierickx, K. (2015). Confidentiality, informed consent, and children’s participation in research involving stored tissue samples: Interviews with medical professionals from the Middle East. Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics, 5(1), 53–66.
Alireza, B., & Abdulla, K. A. (2017). Islamic bioethics: Current issues and challenges. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Publishing Europe Ltd.
Alahmad, G., Hifnawy, T., Abbasi, B., & Dierickx, K. (2016). Attitudes toward medical and genetic confidentiality in the Saudi research biobank: An exploratory survey. International Journal of Medical Informatics, 87, 84–90.
Al-Bar, M. A., & Chamsi-Pasha, H. (2015). Contemporary bioethics: Islamic perspective. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing.
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Beauchamp, T., & Childress, J. (2015). Principles of biomedical ethics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.