British scientists want to extend the amount of time that they can cultivate human embryos in Petri dishes from 14 to 28 days. This is a highly controversial move, but scientists believe that it will result in great medical advances.
The 14-day limit has stood for 25 years, since the early days of IVF in the UK. After Baronness Mary Warnock issued an influential report on IVF legislation in 1984, the figure was enshrined in legislation in 1990. It was always an arbitrary number, but no one questioned it, mostly because it proved so difficult to keep the embryos alive more than a few days anyway. However, this year, Cambridge University scientist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz cultivated human embryos for 13 days, opening up the possibility of extending the limit even further.
“Extending the rule would have benefits for our understanding of our own development, in explaining why it goes wrong and in finding ways to put those errors right,” Zernicka-Goetz told The Guardian. “However, I don’t think that we should make any change without there being a consensus among the public, ethicists and scientists. We need to set limits within which most of us are comfortable.”
Other scientists are also touting the great benefits of such research. “I think if we could extend the limit for embryo research to around 28 days, the benefits for medical research would be enormous,” says IVF expert Simon Fishel. “It would give us 20 years of research that would transform our understanding of ourselves. There is only so much we can learn from animal experiments, from other species, after all.
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.