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Using human embryos in research

02 March 2017
Volume 25 · Issue 3


Scientific advances mean it may be possible to experiment on human embryos beyond the legal limit of 14 days. George Winter explores the debate around whether this limit should be extended.

In May 2016, a team of UK researchers described how they ‘show human embryos develop in medium supplemented with KnockOut Serum Replacement up to day 13. The experiment was stopped at this point because the internationally recognised ethical limit for human embryo culture is up to day 14 or to the first signs of the primitive streak’ (Shahbazi et al, 2016: 701). This was a major advance on 9 days, achieved by Carver et al (2003), and prompted debate as to whether the present 14-day limit should be extended.

When the Department of Health and Social Security (1984: 700–1) published the Warnock Report, it anticipated the feasibility of future advances, but emphasised that ‘such developments are well into the future, certainly beyond the time horizon within which this Inquiry feels it can predict.’ Well, the future is here, so it is reasonable in the current circumstances to question the Inquiry's ‘recommendation… that the growing of a human embryo in vitro beyond fourteen days should be a criminal offence.’

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