New report shows public support for extending the 14-day rule on human embryo research

Dr Katrien Devolder

OUCs Dr Katrien Devolder recently participated in a special public dialogue aimed at engaging the public to consider extending the current 14-day rule on human embryo research. Led by Peter Rugg-Gunn of the Babraham Institute, the resulting report has now been published.

There are good reasons for extending the 14-day rule (we could learn more about why miscarriage occurs, for example) but it is important that scientists clearly communicate to lay audiences about their work, and how and why they’re doing it.

Dr Katrien Devolder, Dialogue Participant

Extract from the report's Executive Summary:

"The aim of this public dialogue has been to engage a diverse group of the public to deliberate on how early human embryo research can be used to its fullest in the future, within a framework of public hopes, fears, aspirations and concerns. Discussions explored current research and regulation and how they might develop and change in the future. The dialogue involved 70 members of the public engaging with scientists, regulators, ethicists, philosophers and people with lived experience to consider the ethical questions and societal implications of early human embryo research [...]. The dialogue was commissioned in light of recent innovations in techniques to culture human embryos in the laboratory. In the UK, human embryo research is regulated by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA). Since 1990, when the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was introduced, the culturing of human embryos in vitro for scientific research has been restricted to a maximum of 14 days. Based on recent studies, scientists now believe it is possible to culture human embryos in a laboratory beyond 14 days. In response to these developments, the 2021 guidelines of the International Society for Stem Cell Research called for meaningful public engagement to understand how people feel about the 14-day rule today"

Key findings:

  • Participants recognised that extending the 14-day rule could open up ways to achieve benefits in fertility and health, with participant support for reviewing this, including national discussion.
  • There was a high level of confidence in how human embryo research is regulated, despite a low level of awareness of the regulators and statutes themselves. This included strong desire to see robust regulation governing any changes to the 14-day rule and further regulation for the use of stem cell-based embryo models.
  • The strongest hopes for future human embryo research were where new knowledge would deliver improvements in understanding miscarriage, preventing health conditions such as spina bifida and raising the success rates of IVF procedures.
  • The public expressed concerns on the application of developments in this field to genetically alter or engineer humans.


Full report: Public Dialogue on research involving early human embryos (October 2023)

Babraham Institute press release: Public support for extending the 14-day rule on human embryo research indicated by foundational dialogue project

BBC Science Focus Article: Public backs controversial UK scientists’ proposal to extend 14-day limit on human embryo testing