The researchers are only allowed to study the embryo for seven days after fertilization. After this time, the embryos are to be terminated. Until then, the researchers want to study them by modifying their genetic code and observing the effects on the growth of the embryo. With fewer than 50% of embryos making it past this phase of development, the hope is that a better understanding of how our DNA functions during this time will help increase fertility rates. Now, while the HFEA has made it clear that the reprogrammed embryos are not to be implanted in women (And indeed that wouldn’t serve the point of the study), questions still arise as to the implications. Namely is it ethical and does it pave the way for other possibly unethical avenues.
I think it is important to stay focused on the direct implications of the study. It is premature to worry about opening any doors; the problem is in whether or not the study itself is ethical. If the study is ethical then any studies that follow It should be asked that same question individually.
In the given scope, the only question then is is it ethically acceptable to perform experiments on human embryos? The embryos will not get the chance to develop beyond the study. Therefore there is no need to go into questions of contaminating the human genome. The deeper question that should be answered first is whether or not what one is experimenting on is a human life. If it is, then it has all the rights that every other human has. Therefore, it would be unethical to experiment on this human being without their consent.
There is, of course, plenty of controversy around when an individual's life begins. Some would like to place it at the moment of conception, some at a specific trimester, others would have it be at birth, and still others seek to put it beyond that. The problem is that the determination of where one draws the line is ambiguous. One might feel that one place is wrong or right, but one cannot communicate that feeling and certainly cannot use it as an argument.
What if, instead of drawing lines, one were to consider being human as an inherent trait of an object? If humanity is thought of in this light it is not a question of when but if the object exists. It would seem to me that the embryo is always the same entity, regardless of what it grows into. If nothing else It has it’s own, unique, DNA, the defining factor of any organism. And if a child is to posses the innate quality of humanity, then as the same object throughout the stages of growth, even as far back as the embryo, that quality would have to have been there as well. This would require that from the moment of its creation the child possessed this quality.
If one accepts this view then one would see the experiment as unethical, not because of any “down the road” concerns, but because the life itself is human. By experimenting on it without consent the research in the wrong.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments!