Scientists have called for the legal limit on embryo experimentation to be extended, in a move which threatens to intensify attacks on the unborn.
A team at Cambridge University kept human embryos alive in a laboratory for 13 days, one day short of the legal limit.
In response to their research, leading scientists have suggested that the limit should be extended to allow further experimentation at later stages of development.
Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, the lead researcher, and Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of London’s Francis Crick Institute both claimed that it could be useful to extend the limit by a number of days.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a body that “examines and reports on ethical issues in biology and medicine”, will hold a meeting later in the year to discuss a change in the law.
The calls were heavily criticised by Josephine Quintavalle, Director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE).
She stressed that the only place a human embryo should be is in the womb.
Embryos belong in the womb
Humphrey Dobson, Deputy Director (Policy and Staffing) at The Christian Institute, said: “Embryos are not potential human beings but human beings with potential.
“Every one of us was once an embryo. As Professor Zernicka-Goetz admits, this is ‘our development’ and it is being observed in a petri dish then destroyed.
“Embryo experiments have failed to provide medical treatments for diseases. But over one million patients have now been treated with adult stem cells, the ethical alternative.”
Despite his support for an extension, Prof Lovell-Badge admitted that it could ‘open a can of worms’.
He said that debate over a change is “not a question to be left to scientists alone”.
The 14-day limit on embryo experimentation was first set out in the 1984 Warnock Report, and became law in the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
The Act legalised experimentation on human embryos up to 14 days for the purposes of research into infertility, congenital disease, miscarriages, contraception and detecting gene or chromosome abnormalities.
Only unwanted embryos arising from IVF treatment can be used.
In 2008, a new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act drastically liberalised UK law on the use of embryos, paving the way for the creation of GM babies.
Regulations which came into force in October 2015 allow the creation of three or four-parent children in cases involving mitochondrial disease.
MPs voted by 382 to 128 to approve two controversial techniques, Maternal Spindle Transfer and Pro-Nuclear Transfer, despite serious safety and ethical concerns.
To learn more about GM babies, view our resources.