Ethical issues in South Africa

By virtue of South Africa having a Christian majority, several issues have been raised in the courts against embryonic stem cell research. According to South African common law however, a legal personality is one who has been born and is completely separated from its mother and must have been alive, even if for just a short period. These arguments possibly influence the law which bans reproductive cloning. According to the South African constitution, everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to make decisions regarding reproduction. The constitution also states that every person has the right to life. The law does not however fully describe what constitutes a person. It also does not refer directly to embryos or fetuses or even define these terms.

This had led to a moral dilemma where the Christian majority believes that the embryo is a living entity and therefore has a right to life. From a Christian point of view, embryonic stem cell research is distasteful as it involves the sacrificing of an embryo which could have developed into a baby. The belief that the embryo is a living thing from conception has also led to the argument that it has a right to life.

There have been debates on when life begins with some saying it begins with conception and others 24 hours after, to mention some of the standpoints. In 1998, the Christian lawyers association also strongly opposed embryonic stem cell research using the arguments above about the constitutional rights of “everyone”.  They also protested against the legalization of abortion using the same arguments. This became a court case where they sued the Minister of Health. The case was however dismissed due to a procedural ruling.

Tug of cells


Republic of South Africa (2003). National Health Bill (B 32B-2003). Retrieved March 9, 2011 from

Republic of South Africa (2004). National Health Act No. 61, 2003 in: Government Gazette No. 26595. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from:

International Consortium of Stem Cell Networks (2008).  Global regulation of human embryonic stem cell research and oocyte donation. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from:

Swanepoel, Magdaleen (2006). Embryonic stem cell research and cloning: A proposed legislative framework in context of legal status and personhood. Magistic Legum dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. Retrieved March 9, 2011 from:

Roppen, H.J  & Bishop, A.E (2004). Embryonic stem cells. In Cell Proliferation Vol 37, 1

Statistics South Africa  (2003). Census 2001. Census in brief (PDF). Rep. 03.02.03 (2001) Retrieved March 9, 2011 from:

About Jemimah Etornam Kassah

Student of Marine Coastal Development at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Loves reading; cooking. writing
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