Joe Bavier;Abidjan;02 April 2005 - Doctors in Mauritania have announced the birth of the country's first baby produced through in-vitro fertilization, a procedure that has become commonplace elsewhere. But in Mauritania, the event has sparked a wave of controversy as some Islamic clerics are denouncing it as an affront to religion.
The birth of Mauritania's first test tube baby was announced earlier this week with little of the fanfare that marked the world's first successful in-vitro fertilization more than two decades ago in London.
Mauritania's test tube baby boy, whose name remains a closely guarded secret, is already two-months-old. The supervising physician for the procedure, Dr. Sidi Ould Isselmou, said the scientific procedure allowed parents unable to conceive naturally the ability to have a child.
But he says because of the complexity of the issue in the country's traditional Muslim society, the team of French and Mauritanian doctors and scientists who participated in the landmark event felt it necessary to protect the identity of both the newborn and his parents.
Early reactions to the announcement in the capital, Nouakchott, show Dr. Isselmou's concerns are justified.
The head of one of Nouakchott's largest mosques, Imam Moustapha Ould Ahmed, says the practice goes against Islamic law.
Only God can create life, he says. Artificial insemination, he says, is an offense to God. Some other religious leaders in Mauritania say they are planning to condemn the practice.
The birth of the world's first test tube baby was also met with moral protests at the time. But the procedure has now been successfully carried out about one million times, according to medical experts. And religious leaders are now more concerned with other life-altering issues, like abortion, euthanasia, and genetic cloning.
As local medical journalist Moktar Ould Mohamed points out, most Mauritanians have yet to form an opinion either way.
Society, he says, is still shocked. People must first comprehend the event, only then, he says, will they be able to pass judgment.
Already there is evidence, even among Mauritania's religious community, of a certain level of acceptance.
The leader of the popular Tzigane Suffi brotherhood, Abdallah Seyed, says it makes no difference whether embryos are created in a natural mother or in a test tube.
But he says for moral reasons science should not be given a totally free hand when it comes to creating human life.
The government, which has been cracking down on Islamic leaders, gave ministerial approval for the in-vitro fertilization to proceed.