The University of the Basque Country research proposes a new definition of human embryo from a legal perspective

The lecturer and Ikerbasque Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) Iñigo de Miguel-Beriain has published a paper in which he provides a legal perspective to help identify a universally accepted definition of embryo, which could facilitate and standardize its regulation in different countries. So he is proposing that any cell structure with the capacity to develop and give rise to a born human being should be regarded as an embryo.

Although the moral status of the embryo has been a crucial issue in public debates, what has emerged as being of paramount importance is the precise delimitation of what a human embryo is and its distinction from other similar entities. This is not just a semantic problem, but also a normative one that has significant practical implications for research.

In this respect, several scientific and technological advances in reproductive biology have forced a re-examination of the definition of human embryo in the last two decades. The possibility of generating human embryos through procedures other than fertilization, such as nuclear transfer, and the development of technologies that today make it possible to generate cell models capable of imitating embryonic structures have called into question the scientific term embryo, which has both ethical and legal repercussions.

“Technological developments sometimes create the need to rethink conceptual categories that were once taken for granted. Right now, it is no longer possible to maintain that an embryo is always and only the result of fertilization,” said Iñigo de Miguel-Beriain.

Together with Jon Rueda from the University of California-San Diego, and Adrian Villalba from the University of Granada, Iñigo de Miguel-Beriain has published a paper in which they reflect on different legal definitions of a human embryo and provide a solid definition from a legal perspective. “The paper proposes an alternative view in which any cell structure that has the capacity to develop and give rise to a born human being should be regarded as an embryo, and that this capacity should be the cornerstone on which the definition is built, as is already the case in some countries in fact, and as the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled.”

“Our reflection aims to contribute towards consolidating a concept of embryo that is more capable of addressing the challenges posed by advances in biotechnology,” said the scientist.

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