Mufti Ebrahim Desai of Camperdown, South Africa discusses the permissibility of experiments with embryonic stem cells:

Fatwa, posted 4.22.2010, from South Africa, in:
Religious Authority: 
Ebrahim Desai
Fatwa Question or Essay Title: 
Mufti Ebrahim Desai of Camperdown, South Africa discusses the permissibility of experiments with embryonic stem cells:

Question: Is it permissible to perform experiments on embryonic stem cells (EBM)? EBM are derived from the following method: When the sperm and egg are combined in fertility clinics for in vitro fertilization for couples who are unable to have children, many times too many embryos are created in the process. Only 1 is used to put in the female uterus and the rest are thrown away. But instead of being thrown away, they were once sent to a research lab for experiments. The U.S government has banned creating more embryos but the ones that were already in possession were allowed to be used. More cells can be grown from the same cells. Also, to maintain the cells in the lab, cells from a pregnant rat must be used to provide nutrition to the cells. The pregnant rat needs to be killed in the process.

Answer: The recent issue of embryonic stem cell research is one of debate amongst scholars. There are some benefits within this research as well as controversial issues. Hereunder are a few fundamental principles which should be understood and followed: 1) Whatever is unlawful in sharia is harmful to mankind, regardless of how beneficial it may seem. This harm could be physical and spiritual. At times, this harm is as clear as daylight to everyone. At times it is only apparent to the experts in the field, and at times it is so hidden that only Allah is aware of its harms. 2) Allah has bestowed mankind with the highest status from all His creations and has made mankind superior over all others. The entire universe is made subservient to man in which man uses what is lawful for his nourishment and well being. Under certain circumstances, unlawful entities also become lawful. Also, due to this status and sanctity bestowed to man by Allah, it is also unlawful to derive any benefit from any part or limb of man. 3) The life bestowed to man is a Divine loan. To harm it or destroy it is a grave sin. Therefore, it is essential to uphold this trust and look after it. It is for this reason that it is necessary to adopt methods and treatments in which one's life can be saved.

As for experimentation on embryonic stem cells, it will not be permissible to do so as the embryo is derived from the human body, which is sacred in Islam. Furthermore, this may lead to abuse and be a window to other prohibitions in Islam as well, e.g. cloning. It is also understood that in order to derive stem cells from an embryo, the embryo must be destroyed. Although this cannot be called abortion, it is considered an unethical act since the destruction of an embryo for stem cell research is the destruction of the life of a potential child. Some say that an embryo cannot have the same value as a human since it has not developed. However, in sharia even if a fetus expires before the period of 120 days in pregnancy (a fetus will be considered a human after 120 days since it will have developed organs and limbs by then), then the fetus will still be buried and treated with respect. Therefore, it is understood that experimenting with the embryo will be tampering with what is derived from the human body. In conclusion, we are of the view that it is not permissible to donate sperm and ovum for the sake of embryonic stem cell research and to benefit from an embryo unless the abovementioned conditions are fulfilled. It is also not permissible to experiment on them since it is tampering with parts derived from the human body.