This week at the Progress Educational Trust (9 May 2016)
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) is delighted to announce the speaker lineup for its next free-to-attend public event, 'Can Women Put Motherhood on Ice?', which is supported by the Scottish Government and is a satellite event of the World Congress of the International Association of Bioethics. The event is taking place in Edinburgh on the evening of Wednesday 15 June, beginning with refreshments at 5.45pm followed by a panel discussion at 6.30pm.
The panel discussion will see David Baird (Emeritus Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh), Dr Sarah Martins Da Silva (Consultant Gynaecologist at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School), Dr Ainsley Newson (Director of the Bioethics Programme at the University of Sydney) and Dr Angel Petropanagos (Research Associate in the Impact Ethics team at Dalhousie University) debate egg freezing, delaying motherhood and whether or not women can beat the biological clock.
In other exciting news this week, researchers led by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz have shown for the first time - in Nature and in Nature Cell Biology - that human embryos can develop in the laboratory for up to two weeks. This scientific breakthrough prompts wider ethical and legal questions, because 14 days is the maximum length of time that human embryos are legally permitted to survive in UK research. This 14-day limit was originally proposed more than 30 years ago, by a Committee of Inquiry (.pdf 769KB) led by PET's Patron Baroness Mary Warnock, and Baroness Warnock remains proud of the limit to this day - see her comments in the video below.
Media coverage of Professor Zernicka-Goetz's breakthrough includes comments on the 14-day limit from PET Director Sarah Norcross. Sarah has been quoted by The Times and by Reuters, saying: 'The scientific community needs to decide whether it is necessary and desirable to extend the legal limit and if so, by how much. A public discussion of the rights and wrongs of this would need to follow, before any change in law could be contemplated.'
News coverage also features the eminent researcher Professor Azim Surani, discoverer of genomic imprinting, who is quoted in a front-page article in the Guardian saying: 'In my opinion, there has been a case to allow culture beyond 14 days even before these papers appeared.' Professor Surani previously argued for extending the 14-day limit at PET's 2015 Annual Conference 'From Three-Person IVF to Genome Editing: The Science and Ethics of Engineering the Embryo' - his remarks at that conference were reported on BuzzFeed here and reported in PET's own BioNews publication here.
Other speakers from PET's conference have also weighed in. Professor John Harris argues in an article for the Guardian that 'the time has come to consider redrawing the line'. Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy is more circumspect in his comments in the the Independent, saying 'it is difficult to see where else the limit might be placed in order properly to respect the developing human embryo and fetus'.
These debates about the the 14-day rule will be explored in depth at PET's next next Annual Conference, which is taking place at University College London's Institute of Child Health on Wednesday 7 December. Booking will open shortly, so be sure to save the date and email Sandy Starr at to register your interest.
Other BioNews articles related to the latest breakthroughs in embryo research include a news piece by Julianna Photopoulos (explaining why the new studies by Professor Zernicka-Goetz and her colleagues are so significant), an opinion piece by Julian Hitchcock (asking whether we should extend the 14-day rule in light of these studies), an earlier opinion piece by Wendy Suffield (posing the same question in light of Professor Surani's comments at PET's conference) and an opinion piece by Professor Zernicka-Goetz herself (about her work with mouse embryos and whether that work also has significance for humans).
Subscribe to BioNews for free here to receive these sorts of articles in your inbox every week. Also be sure to listen to the latest episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme Inside Science, in which PET Adviser Professor Bobbie Farsides is interviewed about the ethics of the 14-day rule. Speaking alongside her is Professor Ali Brivanlou, lead author of one of the relevant embryo research papers - listen to the item here.
Elsewhere, Sarah Norcross has been busy in Parliament meeting MPs to discuss the funding of fertility treatment, in her capacity as Co-Chair of the campaigning organisation Fertility Fairness. Her most recent meetings have been with Labour's Shadow Public Health Minister Andrew Gwynne (MP for Denton and Reddish), Ben Howlett (Conservative MP for Bath) and Steve McCabe (Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak).
Sarah also made a recent appearance at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, where she spoke at a debate entitled 'The Science and Ethics of Frankenstein Today and Tomorrow'. This debate examined Mary Shelley's nineteenth century novel Frankenstein, and the way the novel has been invoked - for better and for worse - in relation to latter-day science and medicine.
Finally, since the 14-day rule is in the spotlight this week, here's a video filmed recently at Baroness Mary Warnock's home in which she talks to Sarah Norcross, Dr Sue Avery (PET Trustee) and Dr Kirsty Horsey (PET Adviser). The in-depth conversation includes her reflections on the 14-day rule, and the way the rule has - at least until now - stood the test of time. Enjoy!