The Guardian published a piece of news on Wednesday that, if confirmed (and you should be a bit skeptical about it), will have a profound impact on biomedicine: a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have succeeded in create synthetic human embryos from reprogrammed embryonic cells.
This could provide us with great advantages both to advance our knowledge of the early stages of human development, and to improve in vitro fertilization techniques, or to create organoids more efficiently, to give a few examples.
Now this innovation not without ethical problemss and legal, which cannot be adequately addressed because it is not at all clear to begin with whether these new entities are truly to be considered human embryos.
This is of essential importance, because only by determining this aspect will we know what can and can’t be done with them, at least as regards its use for investigation, which is what now seems feasible (their use for reproductive purposes would be, for the moment, clearly prohibited, whatever they were). And it is that the much higher restrictions when we talk about embryos than when it comes to structures that are not, however much they may seem so.
Without going any further, in our country the first point of article 33 of Law 14/2007 on Biomedical Research establishes a strict ban on generating human embryos for research purposes, but its second point explicitly states that “the use of any technique for obtaining human stem cells for therapeutic or research purposes is allowed, which does not involve the creation of a pre-embryo or an embryo exclusively for this purpose, in the terms defined in this Law, including the activation of oocytes through nuclear transfer”. The difference in the legal regime of the entities that are and those that are not considered embryos is, therefore, enormous.