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Houston Matters

Is It Time To Reconsider The 14-Day Rule On Studying Human Embryos?

An ethical rule prohibits embryos from being studied outside of the human body past 14 days. But, with recent scientific advances, should we reconsider?



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Scientists have long had problems studying fertilized human embryos outside of the body. One of those problems is the 14-day rule.

The rule prohibits embryos from being studied outside of the human body past 14 days. At that point, they’re either frozen or — if implanted in a woman via in vitro fertilization (IVF) — they can embed themselves in the lining of her uterus, resulting in a pregnancy. At that point, embryos become even harder to observe.

The 14-day rule is codified into law in the United Kingdom and eleven other countries while, in the United States, it’s a widely observed ethical guideline.

Another problem scientists face in studying human embryos is the challenge of keeping them alive outside the body. Previously, the longest it had been done was nine days. But, in 2016, scientists in the U.K. kept embryos alive for 13 days, putting their work right on the cusp of the 14-day rule.

Because of those factors, among others, there’s a lot that scientists still don’t know about the earliest days of human development. However, with recent advances, is it time to reconsider the 14-day rule?

Scientists, scholars, and ethicists will discuss that question at an event May 23 at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. It’s called Drawing the Line: Ethical, Policy and Scientific Perspectives on U.S. Embryo Research.

In the audio above, Houston Matters host Craig Cohen talks with the event’s organizer, Dr. Kirstin Matthews, and researcher Dr. Aryeh Warmflash about what sort of impact embryonic research has had to date, what possibilities might exist in the future, and why the guideline exists.

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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