As a species, we sure think a lot of ourselves. We think of ourselves as so big and mighty, ready to take on the mysteries of the world. And we very well may be, but that doesn’t mean that we have that good a track record. In fact, there are far more mysteries about our world that aren’t even close to getting an answer.
One of the most important mysteries out there, still unsolved after all this time, is the mystery of human development. Because of federal regulations and ethical issues, science wasn’t allowed for a very long time to properly analyze human embryos. This came as a huge detriment to the development of general medicine.
Properly studying human embryos could lead not only to answers as to why miscarriages happen and ways to prevent them, but also to a better understanding of how human beings form and function. To this day, scientists aren’t completely certain of how a mass of cells can become what is known as a human being.
Part of the blame is also held by the fact that we had no way of keeping embryos alive for more than a week. But that excuse is no longer valid, as researchers from Cambridge and New York came up with a way to keep embryos alive for over two weeks, more than double the previous record. This will of course also spark a number of ethical debates.
The procedure works by administering a cocktail of amino acids, hormones, and growth factors which allow the human embryos to feel as though they are in the womb. In fact, they even go through the same embedding through which they go in the mother’s womb at seven days.
Of course, now that the previous record was beaten, and embryos can now most likely be sustained indefinitely, it’s time for politics and ethics discussions. This could prove one of the most important discoveries of the century, and applications could range anywhere from finding a way to stop miscarriages to finding the cure for cancer and a great many other things.
The issue is one of ethics. Just as women aren’t allowed to have abortions after a specific term, we would be entering very morally gray areas if we were allowed to perform tests on embryos after a certain age. But up until a certain point, there is no need for holding back – the potential is enormous, and it can’t really be oversold.
According to Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist with the Case Western Reserve University, if we want to change the current constraints, we should make sure to satisfy moral qualms:
Now there will be further questions about whether or not there would be good scientific reasons for moving that line out a little bit farther. What is the purpose of the 14-day rule in today’s scientific environment and do we want to keep it?
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