Viewpoint: Debating the debate over the new stem cell research guidelines

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Embryonic stem cells. Credit: Bioinformant
Embryonic stem cells. Credit: Bioinformant

An organization of scientists is recommending that limitations on several experimental and controversial research procedures – including heritable genome editing, artificial gametes, and growing human embryos in the lab – be loosened or rolled back. Some of the group’s recommendations, which it formulated without any public consultation, run counter to laws or regulations in numerous countries. Others would erase boundaries that are widely observed by scientists around the world.

Most widely noted is the lifting of the “14-day rule,” the longstanding prohibition against culturing human embryos in the lab for longer than two weeks.

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Arizona State University bioethicist Ben Hurlbut called the new guidelines “breathtakingly expansive,”and noted the rapid slide in scientific norms that is written into them:

What was ethically unthinkable just a few years ago is getting treated as not only permissible but even unproblematic now. Under these guidelines an oversight committee can deliberate behind closed doors and quietly give its blessing to scientists to impregnate a monkey with a partly human embryo, or to see how far into human development scientists can grow artificially constructed synthetic human embryos in bottles.

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Related article:  Viewpoint: How might the Biden Administration regulate heritable human gene editing?
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