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Cambridge University's Research on Synthetic 'Human Embryo Models' Raises Ethical Questions

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Cambridge University researchers have made a synthetic human embryo model using stem cells. This has ignited ethical concerns and raised profound questions about the potential creation of human life without traditional fertilization methods.


By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
6/20/2023 (8 months ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: Cambridge, research, human, embryo, stem cells

As reported by The Guardian, the researchers utilized a single embryonic stem cell and guided its development into an embryo-like structure resembling the gastrulation stage, typically occurring approximately 14 days after fertilization. However, it should be noted that these models lack certain crucial components required for the full development of a human being.

It is important to highlight that the research is yet to be published and has not undergone peer review, warranting further scrutiny and analysis.

Melissa Moschella, an esteemed philosophy professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., specializing in bioethics, shared her insights on the matter. Based on the limited information available, Moschella suggested that the model appears to represent specific aspects of an embryo rather than possessing the complete organizational potential of an actual human embryo. She emphasized that the term "model" indicates its limited resemblance to a fully developed human being.

While Moschella acknowledged that the making of a synthetic embryo model resembling a natural embryo is cause for concern, she clarified that it is not analogous to a real human embryo. Nonetheless, she cautioned against the uncertainties surrounding the boundary between a model and a genuine human embryo. There is a possibility that researchers might unknowingly cross this line, inadvertently creating a human being without being aware of it.

Moschella stressed the inherent dangers in experimenting with the origins of human life, as the distinction between a model and a real human embryo remains ambiguous. She expressed concerns that researchers may unknowingly create an embryo with developmental capacity, leading to a critical moment when it becomes too late to discern whether it is a real human life.

The progressive development of synthetic embryo models, intended to closely resemble real embryos, poses substantial risks to the dignity of human life. Moschella emphasized the need for caution, as researchers might be driven to create models increasingly closer to the real thing. This trajectory raises troubling ethical implications, as the determination of whether an embryo is a real human life may only be possible through gestation, necessitating live experiments on human beings.

Moschella highlighted the uncharted territory researchers find themselves in and the urgent need for robust regulations. The current law permits experimentation on human embryos for up to 14 days after fertilization but restricts further study. However, Moschella argued that the existing regulations are already insufficient, as they allow experimentation on human life during any stage of development, culminating in its destruction.

Finding suitable regulations to address these concerns remains a challenge, according to Moschella. She called for a reevaluation of the current limitations, emphasizing that experiments on human beings, regardless of developmental stage, are fundamentally wrong and should not be permitted.

The synthetic embryo model holds promise in aiding researchers' understanding of genetic disorders and the causes of miscarriage. However, it also underscores the need for a comprehensive ethical framework to govern research in this field. The International Society for Stem Cell Research previously supported the 14-day rule, but recent advancements in keeping embryos alive for longer have prompted a reassessment of these guidelines.

In this complex landscape, it is crucial to strike a balance between scientific progress and safeguarding the sanctity of human life. Ethical considerations should guide the development of regulations that reflect the intricacies of synthetic embryo models and respect the dignity of human existence.

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