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At the Beginning of Life

Kaan Sheung-Hung Terry

(2010) 22 SAcLJ 883

Until recently, controversies about the beginning of human life had been largely restricted (at least in the law) to the context of the law relating to the termination of pregnancy. In Singapore, the boundaries of the law in this area are fundamentally defined by the Termination of Pregnancy Act (Cap 324, 1985 Rev Ed), and of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed). But with the rise of new biomedical technologies such as human embryonic stem cell research, the issue of the beginning of life is receiving new attention. Fresh perspectives on the question are being brought to bear by the advent of new possibilities and procedures in biomedical research. In Singapore, this question was brought into sharp focus by the debate over whether human embryonic stem cell research involving the use of stem cells derived from the destruction of human embryos ought to be permitted, and if so, on what terms, and why. This article examines that debate, focusing in particular on the differing responses from the various and diverse religious and cultural communities that make up Singapore, and examines the process or ways in which the law may find a forward in an area where there is such fundamental disagreement in a plural society, and assesses the possible implications for other similarly plural societies in Asia. The article also considers the implications of this newly re-emergent debate in the context of other new biomedical technologies such as genetic testing and screening, and artificial reproductive technologies.