How and Why to Replace the 14-Day Rule

Sarah Chan
In this article, bioethicist Sarah Chan examines whether scientific advances in developmental biology should lead to revisiting the 14-day rule. In her view, the Warnock Committee did not arrive at a moral principle or a position on the embryo’s moral status when suggesting the 14-day rule but achieved a policy compromise between concerned parties. However, scientific developments have raised questions as to whether the rule may need to be changed. These include not only the possibility to culture human embryos for longer than 14 days, but the development of human pluripotent cells that can be induced to organize similarly to embryos. She identifies a conflation of biology and morality and argues that answers to moral dilemmas are not to be found in biological principles. Chan makes three points in this regard. First, the regulation of embryos should not be based on their properties (such as the potential to become human), but on the treatment and respect owed to them. Second, extending the 14-day rule would not necessarily imply crossing morally concerning boundaries; “map-making” of these boundaries is required. Third, worries about a slippery slope are misplaced, as embryo research is not “slippery”; a series of changes does not itself prompt more changes. The author further argues that moral thinking is not static and should change with new scientific knowledge. In conclusion, rather than assuming that the 14-day rule should be relaxed, “a better question would be how to revisit the rule and assess whether change is appropriate, and if so, what form it should take” (2018:232).