In a recent editorial for the Detroit News, Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi argues in favor of embryonic stem cell since Islamic tradition teaches that "life starts when the fetus is fourth months old and the heart starts beating."
Does Islam really teach that the heart of an unborn child starts beating at four months? Research in embryology clearly shows that the heart of an unborn child starts to beat long before fourth months, usually around 22 days after conception. Embryology textbooks also clearly state that life begins long before fourth months. In the 6th edition of his textbook, Patten's Foundations in Embryology, Bruce Carlson notes, "Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote). ... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual."
Elahi also claims that "Until then (fourth months), the life is more potential and vegetative than real." Many unborn children who've yet to reach their fourth month of age are far from vegetative. Before they reach their fourth month of life, unborn children have already spent their time yawning, making breathing movements, moving their arms, stretching, touching their faces, and moving their heads. Sounds more like a human being with lots of potential instead of a "potential" human being to me.
Even though Elahi is in favor of embryonic stem cell research he opposes abortion saying, "However, abortion is not permitted even during this period except for necessities." Although I appreciate Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi's statement against abortion, I'm wondering why abortion would not be permitted before fourth months by Islam if abortion doesn't take a human life at that point? If abortion doesn't take a life until four months, what's the problem with abortion before four months?
Elahi falls into the same trap as many involved in the abortion or embryonic stem cell debate. He claims that something which is aging, growing, and developing isn't alive until it reaches a certain stage of age/size/development when the fact that the entity is aging, growing, and developing proves it is alive.