Research was published earlier today in Nature and in Nature Cell Biology reports that human embryos have been kept alive outside the womb for up to 13 days, right to the edge of a “fourteen day/development of the primitive streak” rule enshrined in both guidelines and some nations’ laws. And already three authors, Insoo Hyun, Amy Wilkerson, and Josephine Johnston, have called, also in Nature, for “revisiting” that rule. At Nature’s request I wrote a short piece giving my views on this issue; with its permission, I am reposting a slightly modified version of it here. Somewhat unusually, for me, I am not in favor of opening up more possible research, at least not now, based on what I currently understand. For “why,” see below.
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When I was 8 years old my family drove to the Grand Canyon. At our last stop I begged my father to let us walk to the river: “It’s only a half hour away”. (I was probably off by about ten hours.) To get me back into our van, he promised me we would do that the very next time we went to the Grand Canyon. Oddly enough, in the next 37 years, he never took us back.
In the past few decades, bioscience has made several promises it couldn’t be called on. “No human germline engineering,” “no human reproductive cloning,” “no embryo research more than 14 day after fertilization.” None were possible at the time of the promises; all have started looking plausible in the last few years.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.