Embryo experimentation: is there a case for moving beyond the '14-day rule'

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Recent scientific advances have indicated that it may be technically feasible to sustain human embryos in vitro beyond 14 days. Research beyond this stage is currently restricted by a guideline known as the 14-day rule. Since the advances in embryo culturing there have been calls to extend the current limit. Much of the current debate concerning an extension has regarded the 14-day rule as a political compromise and has, therefore, focused on policy concerns rather than assessing the philosophical foundations of the limit. While there are relevant political considerations, I maintain that the success of extension arguments will ultimately depend on the strength of the justifications supporting the current 14-day limit. I argue that the strongest and most prevalent justifications for the 14-day rule-an appeal to individuation and neural development-do not provide adequate support for the limit of 14 days. I instead suggest that an alternative justification based on sentience would constitute a more defensible basis for embryo protection and that a consideration of such grounds appears to support an amendment to the current limit, rather than the retention of it. While these conclusions do not establish conclusively that the current limit should be extended; they do suggest that an extension may be warranted and permissible. As such, this paper offers grounds on which a reassessment of the 14-day rule may be justified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-196
Number of pages16
JournalMonash Bioethics Review
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • 14-day rule
  • Embryo research
  • Individuation
  • Primitive streak
  • Warnock


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