New law: It will soon be possible to culture embryos for research

In the Netherlands, embryo transplantation is now only allowed for pregnancy treatments, such as IVF treatments. Any surplus embryos — embryos left after IVF — can be used for research. But the breeding of embryos, purely for scientific research, is prohibited.

“very disappointed”

ChristenUnie in particular is strongly against embryo transplantation for research. This Christian party views every embryo, but soon after fertilization, as a living organism. It is against the party to grow it only for research and then destroy it.

This leads to frustration for many doctors. Clinical embryologist Sebastian Mastenbrock is one of them. “Yes, it’s very frustrating. We believe there are now opportunities to make treatments safer, more successful and more effective.”

early human development

He cites his daily practice as an example. Only one in three IVF treatments are successful β€” ie: only one in three results in pregnancy, Mastenbroek says. Mastenbroek would like to increase this percentage, but the real research is currently difficult. Only surplus embryos, which remain after IVF treatments and are donated, or embryos grown from mouse stem cells, can now be used for this purpose.

“We’re doing research every day to improve our treatments and understand very early human development. But some questions you can’t answer without studying very early embryo development, in the first days after fertilization. And that’s not really possible,” says Mastenbrock.

legislative change

Politicians have been talking about a possible amendment to the law for years, but have taken no action. In several successive governments, Christian parties prevented change.

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The government party faction chiefs VVD and D66 have now united to ensure that the research space is actually needed.

Sophie Hermans, leader of the VVD: “Why do I think this is important? Because we can improve our medical research, which is aimed at the health of all of us. We can use this to obtain information about the development of the first days of fetuses and this information is very important. Our care is improving, and we We’re getting all kinds of important insights for better treatments.”

“Because we put it in law, we prevent it from being misused,” Hermans says.

“there is space”

The embryos law has not been changed since 2002, says D66 party leader Jan Paternot. “Successive cabinets always had a reason not to do it, not to make it possible. Now the space is there, so we want to set up a law with the VVD.”

After a period of stagnation, ethical medical issues are back on the agenda during this government’s tenure. After any discussion on this matter in the previous ministries under the leadership of the Christian parties, this coalition agreement left more space for the considerations of the private parties.

“clump of cells”

But ChristenUnie in particular strongly disagrees. The CDA Scientific Office has previously advised this before changing the lawBut the faction in the House of Representatives does not appear yet. And precisely because this issue is so sensitive, it was agreed that the amendment could be prepared now, but that it would not be discussed in the House of Representatives until a later term.

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Mastenbroek points out that embryos have not yet developed into fetuses during the first days after fertilization. “We’re not talking about an embryo, so something has a head and two arms and legs. That will come weeks later. This is about very early embryos, it’s about a lump of a few cells.”

scientific significance

He understands the concerns out there, but explains: β€œIt’s not that researchers will soon be allowed to do everything at once. Every research in the Netherlands is tested to see if it complies with the legislation and whether the use of these embryos outweighs the scientific interest.”

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