The moral status of stem cell-derived embryo models

Foto af embryo stamceller (røde og blå farver)

Watch the recording of the symposium on YouTube.

Listen to the podcast "Human embryo models – with Dr. Jacob Hanna" produced by The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board.

This event is organised as a mini symposium at the University of Iceland. The Nordic Committee on Bioethics has invited some of the most prominent researchers from the Nordics and beyond, with expertise in stem cells- and embryonic research, ethics and law. They will share their research and their reflections in the form of presentations and conversations.

The symposium is in collaboration with the Graduate programme in molecular life sciences, BioMedical Center (BMC) at the University of Iceland.


Currently, the 14-day rule in science policy and regulation, limits research on human embryos (outside the uterus) to the first 14 days of gestation. This is referred to as the 14-day rule. This means, that week 3-4 of human embryonic development is something of a “black box” because scientists cannot see what is taking place in the uterus during the early stages of gestation beyond the first two weeks. In recent years, progress has been made in early embryo research beyond the first two weeks, via “human embryo models,” developed from stem stells, and the study of mouse embryos. Making further use of these discoveries would, however, require researchers to go beyond the 14-day rule when culturing human embryos and embryo models. This raises various ethical issues, not the least concerning the ethical and legal status of such “embryo models” and it re-actualises the debate on a potential extension of the 14-day rule.

Various ethical dilemmas emerge, which forces us to think about moral principles such as the duty to prevent suffering and the duty to respect the value of human life. Where is the balance concerning the benefits these embryo models provide vs. ethical concerns? What is the legal and ethical status of human-embryo-like structures now and in the future – should it be the same for embryo models as for human embryos? What are the financial interests and how should they be regulated? Why should we want to go beyond the 14-day rule? What are the particular questions that arise from a Nordic point of view with regards to the moral status of a human embryo model and culturing human embryos beyond the 14 days?


  • Dr. Jacob Hanna, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel (topic of talk: From Stem Cells to Bona Fide Embryo Models – Ex Utero)
  • Fredrik Lanner, Assistant Professor at Department for Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden (topic of talk: Using stem cell models and extended cultures to understand human embryo development)
  • Johanna Ahola-Launonen, Doctor of Philosophy and Post-Doctoral Researcher at Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland (topic of talk: Beliefs and interests concerning embryo models: On the differences between instrumentalist and sociotechnical approaches)
  • Garðar Árnason, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Akureyri, Iceland (topic of talk: Embryo models, potential humans and moral status)
  • Sigur∂ur Kristinsson (moderator), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Akureyri



Bethina Strandberg-Jensen