Two members of Congress this week criticized new guidance by a leading scientific organization removing prohibitions on research of human embryos more than 14 days old.

The International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) released new guidance on Wednesday, May 16, now calling for conversations among leading scientists, donors, and public officials on the possibility of conducting research on human embryos past 14 days. 

Such discussions should include “the scientific significance” of such research, as well as “the societal and ethical issues raised,” the society said.

At the moment, it is currently standard policy to destroy embryos used in research before they reach the 14th day of development. After 14 days, the nervous system of the unborn child begins to develop.

“Should broad public support be achieved within a jurisdiction, and if local policies and regulations permit, a specialized scientific and ethical oversight process could weigh whether the scientific objectives necessitate and justify the time in culture beyond 14 days, ensuring that only a minimal number of embryos are used to achieve the research objectives,” the society said. 

The ISSCR noted that “it is currently not technically feasible to culture human embryos beyond formation of a primitive streak or 14 days post-fertilization,” but added that scientific advances may make this possible in the future. 

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) both expressed their dismay at the updated guidance on Thursday, May 27. 

“The ISSCR has shown an utter disregard for the value and dignity of human life,” said Smith. 

“Its previous rule allowing scientists to create and experiment on human embryos up to 14 days was already unethical and morally repugnant, but the ISSCR has now removed all restraint, allowing unborn humans at any stage of development to be experimented on, manipulated, and destroyed,” he said. 

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In its guidance released this week, the society further recommended the lifting of any restrictions on creating “chimera” embryos with both human and animal cells. Presently, the National Institutes of Health has a moratorium on funding the creation of these chimeric embryos. 

Smith and Braun both introduced the “Human-Animal Chimera Prohibition Act” in their respective branches of Congress. If the bill were to become law, all research on human-animal chimeras would be prohibited. 

Smith said that the bill, known in the House of Representatives as HR3542, is an “important step.” 

Braun unsuccessfully tried to attach an amendment to the Endless Frontier Bill on Thursday, prohibiting the creation of certain types of human-animal chimeras. 

“We also call on the Biden Administration to preserve the scientific integrity of our nation and ensure that the United States does not further weaken requirements protecting human embryos and requiring a strict code of ethical conduct from our scientists and researchers,” Smith said. 

Braun said that the NIH “should not lift their moratorium on funding animal-human hybrid experiments” and that he believes “such research is an affront to the sanctity of human life that should be outlawed.”