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In May 2016, scientists reached a new milestone — the culturing of human embryos to 14 days after fertilization.That experiment was stopped because of current international guidelines, but some scientists would now like policymakers to reconsider this rule.

Day 14 was originally chosen because it precedes formation of the primitive streak when cells begin to specialize in the process leading to neural development. It is also the last point of twinning, when one embryo can split into two, so some argue that prior to this point the embryo could potentially be more than one individual.

By creating a limit, policymakers confer a special status on the human embryo while still allowing for research and the pursuit of knowledge. Calls for an extension are understandable, but any change to the rule may be just as arbitrary as the 14-day mark. At what point does a fertilized egg warrant protections as a human subject? If response to pain is our measure, would administering anesthesia to the embryo satisfy concerns?

To develop a justifiable and thoughtful human embryo research guideline, we need a robust discussion that weighs moral and ethical concerns alongside potentially valuable medical knowledge.

The bottom line: Given the controversial nature of this work, knowledge for its own sake may not ultimately be an adequate justification for extending human embryo research, but now is the time for further debate.

Go deeper

12 mins ago - World

NYT: Biden won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President-elect Joe Biden during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.

Trump threatens to veto Defense spending bill over social media shield

Photo: Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Tuesday a threat to veto a must-pass end-of-year $740 billion bill defense-spending authorization bill unless Congress repeals a federal law that protects social media sites from legal liability.

Why it matters: Trump's attempt to get Congress to end the tech industry protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the latest escalation in his war on tech giants over what he and some other Republicans perceive as bias against conservatives.

The walls close in on Trump

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

With Bill Barr's "Et tu, Brute!" interview with AP, President Trump is watching the walls close in on his claims of fraud, hoaxes and conspiracies.

Why it matters: Trump and his legal team continue to claim election fraud. But the Republican governors of Arizona and Georgia have certified their elections, a loyalist like Barr has weighed in, and lower-ranking officials have taken potshots.