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A longstanding prohibition against culturing human embryos for more than 14 days is now open for discussion, according to revised research guidelines released in May by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR). The society’s change in position was prompted by recent advances in embryo culture methods that promise to deepen understanding of human development at the stage when the embryo implants in the uterus—knowledge that may lead to new therapies for infertility and miscarriage. The ISSCR is to be commended for encouraging ethical reflection on extending the 14-day rule before the world is caught off guard by an embryo experiment that goes beyond the accepted time frame. It is now up to interested parties in national scientific, political, ethics and religious communities to take up the ISSCR’s challenge.

In 1978, the birth of the first baby created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) was met with a storm of controversy. IVF provoked deep concerns and anxieties about the wisdom of tampering with the natural order of reproduction. Once human procreation was unlinked from coitus, impossible things became possible: women... see more