May 26, 2024

Rethinking the 14 day rule

Policy analysts are calling for a “reconsideration” of the decades-old 14-day embryo experimentation rule.

Policy analysts in the United States and UK are calling for a “reconsideration” of the decades-old 14-day embryo experimentation rule – a regulation that requires scientists to terminate any embryo in vitro before it reaches two weeks of development. New embryology research indicates that scientists can now grow embryos in a culture dish well past 14 days, permitting research into early human development and various diseases.

An article in this month’s Hastings Center Report calls for “a new public discussion” of the longstanding regulation, suggesting in particular that we take into account new scientific and social perspectives on embryo research. “…our understandings of responsible research have evolved to require greater public participation in decisions about science”, writes University of Edinburgh bioethicist Sarah Chan. “Broader public discourse must begin now”.

Chan says that the 14-day rule was originally based on an arbitrary compromise between different viewpoints on the moral status of the embryo. We should be open to considering whether the public now wants to extend or restrict the limits we place on embryo research.

The purpose of engagement cannot be solely to reassure the public or gain public acceptance; nor should academics concerned with policy be open to engagement only when we feel safe that publics will tamely agree with us. An even-handed approach is needed: we need to be willing to hear what people have to say, even if we may not like it.”

Baroness Mary Warnock, a moral philosopher and one of the original proponents of the rule, has cautioned against change. According to Warnock, the rule provides a way of allowing for embryo research, while still addressing slippery slope concerns: “you cannot successfully block a slippery slope except by a fixed and invariable obstacle, which is what the 14-day rule provided.” 

Rethinking the 14 day rule
Xavier Symons
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14 day rule
embryo experimentation
embryo research
research ethics