Bioethics Blogs

“Recalibration” of Embryo Research Guidelines and a Private Meeting on Synthetic Human Genomes

By SAM WU, BS and KEVIN T. FITZGERALD, SJ, PhD

Controversial breakthroughs, newly proposed guidelines, a private meeting of experts, and a lack of engagement mechanisms to include the public.  Article two in a series on emerging biotechnology.

Nature reported that two research teams have sustained human embryos in vitro for twelve to thirteen days, coming closer to the widely used 14-day limit than ever before. A potential benefit of this scientific advance is that researchers may be able to study early human development with “unprecedented precision”; on the other hand, this research once again raises ethical and practical questions of where to set limits on human embryo research. The Ethics Advisory Board of the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare originally proposed the 14 day limit in 1979. Twelve countries have since encoded this limit into law and others have written it into guidelines, limiting almost all in vitro research to within those first 14-days of development.

Hyun, et al. suggest that the 14-day rule has been successful in our pluralistic society because it provides space for scientific inquiry and advancement, but also takes into consideration other views that stress the moral status of human embryos. In other words, the rule’s success is due to the fact that it protects the two chief goals that any rule covering human embryo research should uphold: “supporting research and accommodating diverse moral concerns.” The authors further suggest that by viewing established limits in research as “policy tools” rather than as moral truths, “it becomes clear that, as circumstances and attitudes evolve, limits can be legitimately recalibrated.”

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has attempted to do just that, with the recent release of its updated guidelines on embryonic-stem cell research and clinical translation.

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.