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This paper examines ethical questions and concerns related to human embryo research. We review the scope and significance of various ethical positions on this research, focusing on factors that might affect it in general as well as beyond 14 days. Given that recent policy discussions address broadening rather than restricting human embryo research guidelines, we pay particular attention to ethical considerations relevant to extending or lifting the 14-day deadline. As scientists begin to seek permission to study embryos older than 14 days, different views about the moral status of the embryo beyond 14 days will become more important.
We explore the concept of moral status in detail, consider whether science alone can establish an entity’s moral status, and highlight some of the major accounts of the moral status of human embryos. We also review the implications of different accounts of moral status for human embryo research. Some commentators claim that disputes regarding the embryo’s moral status need not
be resolved to secure common ground for developing embryo research policy (King 1997). Such a view may rest on an underappreciation of the significance and implications of some understandings of the moral status of human embryos, or on a view about policy development in a morally pluralistic society that easily dismisses dissenting voices.
The moral status of the embryo is, however, not the only consideration relevant to the ethical assessment of human embryo research beyond 14 days. Concerns about the moral status of human embryos are relevant against a background assumption regarding knowledge as a good to be sought. We thus begin with a discussion regarding the value of pursuing knowledge.