Islam and Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)


Since the birth of the world first test tube baby, Louise Brown in 1978, In Vitro Fertilization  (IVF) has helped many childless couples successfully produce families in all corners of the globe. Current developments regarding Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatments have sparked debates among religious groups in many Islamic nations resulting in many different viewpoints.

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) involves treating a woman with hormones in order for the ovaries to produce several eggs. At the proper time in the treatment cycle, the follicles in which the eggs are developing are aspirated with a needle using ultrasound guidance. The eggs are then placed with sperm in the embryo culture laboratory where successfully fertilized oocytes (zygotes) are allowed to develop for several days. A limited number of zygotes are then transferred into the uterus cavity in hopes of achieving a successful pregnancy. [1]

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) have thus caused major changes in human reproduction which in turn affects the way in which Islam and religion in general regard procreation. In Islam, attempts to cure infertility can be considered mandatory. In Islamic nations as well as in most countries the family functions as a cornerstone in society. Children are therefore highly desired. However, in Islamic countries, if allowed, IVF treatments can only be practiced if it involves a husband and a wife and if it is performed during the span of their marriage. [2]

With the exception of Iran, most Islamic nations do not allow third party donations. In the late 1990’s Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khāmene’i, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a religious proclamation or a ‘ fatwa’, that allows for donor technologies, eggs as well as sperm donation to be used. [3] This puts Iran, a predominantly Shi’a Muslim nation, in an extraordinary position opposite the Sunni Islamic World where all forms of third party donations are strictly prohibited by religious decrees and Islamic medical ethics.

In 2003, the Iranian parliament passed Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) legislation with the approval of the Guardian Council, a religious commission that must endorse a bill before it becomes law. The law determines that egg donation is allowed contingent on the condition that the husband marries the egg donor in a temporary marriage according to Shi'a Islam.[4] This way, all three parties involved are married.
Direct sperm donation, on the other hand, is prohibited by law since a sperm donor cannot marry a woman who is already married and whose husband is infertile. Noteworthy is that Iranian law does allow for embryo donation, which consists of an egg - and a sperm cell, to be used to deal with both male a female infertility. This means that an embryo can come from a married couple and can subsequently be given to another married couple.
However, the legal process of artificial insemination does not allow for a woman to donate her own egg cell in case she has an infertile husband. She is therefore unable to strengthen biological relations with the child.
Nonetheless, these recent developments regarding Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) have reshaped traditional concepts of family life and parenthood in Iran. This also demonstrates that ancient religious practices and modern technology can be reconciled in such a manner that both can be advanced.


[1] The influence of Catholicism, Islam and Judaism on the ART, Bioethical and Legal debate; A comparitive Survey of ART in Italy, Egypt and Israel by M.R. Bundren in University of Detroit Mercy Law Review, Vol. 84 (5) 2006/2007, p. 720.

[2]Religious views regarding treatment of infertility by ART
by J. Schenker in Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, Vol. 9, No.1, 1992.

[3] The ‘ Iranian ART Revolution’: Infertility, Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), and third-party donation in the Isamic Republic of Iran by Mohammad Jalal Abbasi – Shavazi, Marcia C. Inhorn, Hajiieh Bibi Razeghi-Nasrabad, and Ghasem Toloo in the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 4:2, 2007, p. 4.

4] Making Muslim babies; IVF and gamete donation in Sunni versus Shi’a Islam by M.C. Inhorn in Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 30 (4), 2006, p 427-450.