January 2021 Special Article
This essay is the revised version of a talk I gave to Muslim scientists and
lawyers organised by MUIS in July 2005.
Mr Syed Isa Samit, Mufti of Singapore, Mr Haji Mohammed Alami, President of MUIS,vmembers of MUIS, ladies and gentlemen.
I bring warm greetings on behalf of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.vOn behalf of Bishop Dr John Chew, President of the NCCS, and Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, I would like to thank Mr Alami, President of MUIS, for his kind invitation to participate in this consultation on a topic of great currency, and one which affects everyone in society.
From the second quarter of the previous century we witnessed tremendous advancements in science and technology, particularly in the specialized field of biotechnology and biomedicine. Many philosophers and scientists have described ours as the ‘Age of Biology’, and, judging from the developments that are taking place, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the twenty-first century promises to be the ‘Biotech Century’.
From the mapping of the human genome to the successful cloning of human embryos and the harvesting of human stem cells, these advances present great promise on the one hand, and introduce profound ethical concerns on the other. These concerns are not just confined to members of religious communities; they are issues which touch every member of society. They have to do with profound issues like what it means to be human, issues with consequences that will shape the future of our society.
The value of consultations like this one, in which members of different religious communities can gather to share the perspectives from their own traditions, cannot be overstated. This is particularly true for the Islamic and Christian traditions, which understand that human life comes from God, and must therefore be respected and protected.
The Singapore government sees biomedicine and biomedical research as an important investment. Apart from wooing scientists from all over the world to Singapore, the government has also established Biopolis, a vast complex dedicated to research in genetics and biotechnology. A recent Straits Times article reported that biomedical manufacturing in Singapore generated $179 million last year, more than double the expected income. The same report announces that Bio*Capital has a fund of $1.2 billion, one-third of which is already invested and committed. No effort is spared to promote Singapore’s edge as a biotech hub.
Biomedicine is a very vast topic. What I propose to do this afternoon is to focus only on those aspects of biomedicine and biomedical research that were discussed recently in Singapore. In the past few years, the Bioethics Advisory Committee of Singapore has produced a number of consultation papers on a variety of issues related to biomedicine and biomedical research, from stem cell research to tissue donation, and most recently, genetic testing. These issues are of paramount importance since they affect members of the public in profound ways.
In 2003, the NCCS published a book entitled Life Sciences: A Christian Perspective in which some of these issues are discussed. I would like to recommend this book to you.
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Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.