Dutch perspectives on the conceptual and moral qualification of human embryo-like structures: a qualitative study

Ana M. Pereira Daoud, Wybo J. Dondorp, Annelien L. Bredenoord & Guido M. W. R. de Wert

Published: December 2022


The number of publications on the governance of research with human embryo-like structures (hELS), i.e., 3D aggregates of human (induced) pluripotent stem cells made to model early human development, is growing rapidly. Public involvement is called for in many of these publications, but studies on public perspectives towards this emerging field remain lacking due to its novelty. To reduce the gap in the literature and contribute to the ongoing scholarly debate, we conducted interviews with Dutch lay citizens, health law and health care professionals, and interviewees reasoning from prominent worldviews in the Netherlands. This article reports on these participants’ views about the conceptual and moral qualification of hELS. With regard to the conceptual qualification of hELS, participants believed it should provide a shorthand for their (dis)similarity to human embryos, but differences remained with regard to the features upon which this (dis)similarity should be based. With regard to the moral qualification of hELS, participants believed this should depend on whether or not hELS possessed the features they considered morally relevant, among which those associated with sentience and a potential for continuous human development. Taken together, these findings align well with the arguments and positions traditionally found in related ethical debates and the recently proposed recommendations for the governance of research with hELS specifically. As such, they may also help allay concerns about lay publics not being able to meaningfully participate in debates about the ethical ramifications of (novel) scientific developments.

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