A 14-day limit for bioethics:The debate over human embryo research

Cavaliere, Giulia (2017) A 14-day limit for bioethics:The debate over human embryo research. BMC Medical Ethics, 18. ISSN 1472-6939

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Background This article explores the reasons in favour of revising and extending the current 14-day statutory limit to maintaining human embryos in culture. This limit is enshrined in law in over a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom. In two recently published studies (2016), scientists have shown that embryos can be sustained in vitro for about 13 days after fertilisation. Positive reactions to these results have gone hand in hand with calls for revising the 14-day rule, which only allows embryo research until the 14th day after fertilisation. Main text The article explores the most prominent arguments in favour of and against the extension of the 14-day limit for conducting research on human embryos. It situates these arguments within the history of the 14-day limit. I start by discussing the history of the 14-day limit in the United Kingdom and the reasons behind the decision to opt for a compromise between competing moral views. I then analyse the arguments that those who are generally in favour of embryo research put forward in support of extending the 14-day rule, namely (a) the argument of the beneficence of research and (b) the argument of technical feasibility (further explained in the article). I then show how these two arguments played a role in the recent approval of two novel techniques for the replacement of faulty mitochondrial DNA in the United Kingdom. Despite the popularity and widespread use of these arguments, I argue that they are ultimately problematic and should not be straightforwardly accepted (i.e. accepted without further scrutiny). I end by making a case for respecting value pluralism in the context of embryo research, and I present two reasons in favour of respecting value pluralism: the argument of public trust and the argument of democracy. Conclusion I argue that 14-day limit for embryo research is not a valuable tool despite being a solution of compromise, but rather because of it. The importance of respecting value pluralism (and of respecting different views on embryo research) needs to be considered in any evaluation concerning a potential change to the 14-day rule.

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Journal Article
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BMC Medical Ethics
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09 Sep 2019 13:20
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 02:39