CV NEWS FEED // A leading stem cell research organization has called for scientists to lift a long-held ethical rule against growing and experimenting on embryonic human beings beyond 14 days of gestation.
The Illinois-based International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) made the suggestion in a new set of guidelines published this year for consideration by governments, research facilities, and universities.
The last time the ISSCR published such a set of guidelines, in 2016, their recommendations were widely adopted and shared uncritically by science-related U.S. governmental bodies such as the National Institute of Health.
In the U.S., “regulatory bodies at universities and other institutions universally adhere to the 14-day rule,” NPR reported Wednesday:
If the new guidance is adopted, it would be a major change.
“When you ask, ‘Is this ethically bad?’ Well, you also have to put the opposite: Are there ethical issues for not doing research in that period?” says Robin Lovell-Badge … who chaired the task force that wrote the guidelines.
While Lovell-Badge essentially asked “Why not?” on this important ethical question, a number of bioethicists have strongly disagreed.
Again, from NPR:
“I think it’s deeply troubling,” says Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a bioethicist at Georgetown University. “Now, any sign of respect for the human embryo is gone.”
Others are especially concerned that the new guidelines include no clear stopping point for how long a developing embryo could be studied in a lab dish.
“If you don’t have any endpoint, could you take embryos to 20 weeks? To 24 weeks? Is viability the only endpoint,” asks Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist who otherwise praises the new guidelines. “Is viability even an endpoint?”
Ryan Anderson, who serves as President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, also rejected the new ISSCR guidelines. “Killing human beings more mature than fourteen days old? How could that be ethical, you ask?” he tweeted.
Anderson then quoted Lovell-Badge’s “Why not?” defense, suggesting that there was nothing ethical about it. “Well the expert who wrote the guidelines explains: ‘In many ways, you could argue it would be unethical not to do it.’
“Ah,” Anderson wrote. “The best bioethics money can buy.”
“Slippery-slope warnings are sometimes sound,” added lawyer and author Ed Whelan.
J. Benjamin Hurlbut, a bioethicist at Arizona State University, told NPR that the new guidelines could lead to “monstrous” results. Hurlbut was particularly concerned about what the ISSCR’s permissiveness might lead to in the field of “chimera” studies, in which human and animal cells are combined into a developing embryo.
“Do we really need to hark back to Mary Shelley to remind ourselves that the production of monstrosity may well grow out of a misguided sense of the good — combined with the thrill of the power of control over life?” Hurlbut said. “What is at stake here if not that?”
“What was ethically unthinkable just a few years ago is getting treated as not only permissible but even unproblematic now,” Hurlbut continued:
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.
The Democrat-controlled Senate voted Wednesday evening on five proposed amendments to the Endless Frontier Act, a science and technology research bill that will determine a number of budget and regulatory matters.
In a 48-49 vote, the Senate defeated the “Braun (R-IN) amendment to prohibit certain types of human-animal chimeras,” CSPAN’s Craig Caplan reported. “60 votes were needed for passage.”