NYMC Faculty Publications

The Ethics of Human-Embryoids Model: a Call for Consistency

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Journal of Molecular Medicine

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Review Article

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In this article, we discuss the ethics of human embryoids, i.e., embryo-like structures made from pluripotent stem cells for modeling natural embryos. We argue that defining our social priorities is critical to design a consistent ethical guideline for research on those new entities. The absence of clear regulations on these emerging technologies stems from an unresolved debate surrounding natural human embryo research and one common opinion that one needs to solve the question of the moral status of the human embryo before regulating their surrogate. The recent NIH funding restrictions for research on human embryoids have made scientists even more unlikely to raise their voices. As a result, the scientific community has maintained a low profile while longing for a more favorable socio-political climate for their research. This article is a call for consistency among biomedical research on human materials, trying to position human embryoids within a spectrum of existing practice from stem cell research or IVF to research involving human subjects. We specifically note that the current practices in infertility clinics of freezing human embryos or disposing of them without any consideration for their potential benefits contradicts the assumption of special consideration for human material. Conversely, creating human embryoids for research purposes could ensure that no human material be used in vain, always serving humankind. We argue here that it is time to reconsider the full ban on embryo research (human embryos and embryoids) beyond the 14-day rule and that research on those entities should obey a sliding scale combining the completeness of the model (e.g., complete vs. partial) and the developmental stage: with more advanced completeness and developmental stage of the considered entity, being associated with more rigorous evaluation of societal benefits, statements of intention, and necessity of such research.