Calls to extend the limit on human embryo experimentation have been dismissed by the UK’s fertility regulator – at least temporarily.
Outspoken fertility scientists had called for the current 14-day limit to be doubled to 28 days.
But the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said there is no rush for a change to the law.
The HFEA decision was not, however, based on the ethical principles involved, but because of current limitations in technology, indicating that scientists could renew their calls in the future.
Sally Cheshire, Chairman of the HFEA, stressed that embryos can only be kept alive for up to five days in most cases, saying: “We need to be careful that we don’t run before we can walk”.
At a conference yesterday, Professor Simon Fishel, head of fertility group Care, spoke as one of the main proponents for relaxing current restrictions.
Earlier in the week, Prof Fishel dismissed ethical concerns, telling The Times: “It’s not a human embryo we are testing, it’s human embryonic cells.”
The former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was also present at the conference, where he denied that life begins from conception.
Lord Carey, who has previously spoken in favour of assisted suicide, said: “I simply cannot understand the mindset that believes there’s an equivalence between an embryo and a full human life.”
Despite the fact that embryo experimentation necessarily involves the destruction of human life, he claimed that such experiments are driven by a “profound respect for the sanctity of life”.
The calls had sparked criticism in the press, as well as from pro-life campaigners.
Commenting in The Times, Melanie Phillips said the current law is a “slippery slope”.
She added that treating embryos as “merely a bundle of cells that is disposable is to instrumentalise and dehumanise not just the embryo but ultimately all of us”.
Dr Anthony McCarthy, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, described the calls as “morally obtuse”.
He said: “In 1984 the Warnock Report on embryo experimentation refused to examine closely when personhood began. Instead it came up with an arbitrary 14 day limit after which the destruction of new human embryos would be, not just permitted, but enforced.
“Now others who are similarly uninterested in fundamental questions concerning the rights of new human persons wish to expand the scope to create, keep and destroy those persons. That they wish to do so, in part, to help avoid miscarriage is morally obtuse.”