Through ethnography of Islamic legal debates over assisted reproduction in Lebanon, this paper reaffirms the need to place discussions of ‘Islamic bioethics’ within particular intellectual, social and political contexts. ‘Islamic bioethics’, as most commonly employed in academic discourse at least, serves as a term of art for Islamic legal (fiqhi) discussions of biomedical ethical issues. Such discussions in the first place are, in the context of the Shi‘i debates focused on here, responses to particular cases and queries on the part of comprehensive religious authorities (maraji‘ al-taqlid). Relative expertise in responding to such ‘contemporary’ issues is, amongst other things, a source of prestige and advancement in the highly politicised and competitive field of Shi‘i religious authority in Lebanon.

Incorporating such Islamic legal discourse into medical institutional or state legal regulation has proved problematic in this area in Lebanon. Such incorporation has occurred in other medical ethical areas in Lebanon and elsewhere. There is, then, a varied institutional and political topography that needs to be considered in any investigation of a putative instance of ‘Islamic bioethics’. The paper thus concludes with some critical comments with regards to the category, ‘Islamic bioethics’ itself. ‘Bioethics’ is a specialised discourse distinctive to late modern societies, as manifested in a variety of institutions with particular genealogies. If ‘Islamic bioethics’ is to refer to anything at all, it must refer not to instances of casuistic Islamic legal discourse but to emergent constellations of interrelation between Islamic legal, medical and state legal institutions.


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  • Accepted: 23 June 2012
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