On the ethics of human embryo experiments

By Dorany Pineda

Scientists have discovered how to grow and keep human embryos alive in lab dishes for up to 14 days.

Though the international ethical debate this discovery has sparked is valid, scientists should be allowed to grow the embryos past the two week limit. The findings could be paramount to uncovering some key questions about life and why its development sometimes goes wrong.

The debate mainly revolves around the long-established agreement that bans scientists from studying human embryos past two weeks.

According to an article published in the National Public Radio’s website titled “Embryo Experiments Reveal Earliest Human Development, But Stir Ethical Debate,” at two weeks, the embryo starts to show signs of a central nervous system.

It is also around that time that the embryo becomes a unique individual and can no longer split into two.

That is why in some countries, it is against the law for scientists to grow a human embryo beyond 14 days.

In the United States it is merely a guideline, but one that is complied with to avoid raising too many questions about the ethics of human embryo experimentation. But this law, or guideline, is outdated.

It was created decades ago during a time when no one believed that an embryo could be kept alive longer than seven days.

There are several reasons why people, including scientists, are opposed to prolonging the current time convention. Some fear that extending the amount of time scientists can grow an embryo will eventually lead to a dystopian future where humans are produced in a lab.

Others are simply uncomfortable with the experimentation and meddling of human life.

They believe it relegates a potential being to the level that disrupts the authority of a supreme being, and that every stage in the development of a person’s life, beginning with conception, is sacred. Despite the arguments, this breakthrough is incredibly significant.

For one, some scientists believe that from these studies they will find new ways to prevent birth defects, treat infertility and stop miscarriages.

Beyond that, it is exactly experiments like these that teach us more about the early stages of humanity: who we are and what we’re made of, how we function and grow, why defects occur and how we can prevent them from happening.

If we are to advance in our scientific and medical understandings of life, in all its mysteries, then social values and belief systems need to be reconsidered. After all, the 14-day rule is shaped by these values and beliefs.

Though the ethical debate will forever remain, the laws and guidelines should be rethought to continue this quest of knowledge.

Scientists just might unearth information that could help, or better, the human species.

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