France to renew tight bioethics limits, critics hit Catholic lobbying

February 8, 2011
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(An in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure in Warsaw, October 26, 2010/Kacper Pempel )

France’s parliament opened debate on revising its bioethics laws on Tuesday amid protests that Roman Catholic Church lobbying had thwarted plans to ease the existing curbs on embryonic stem cell research. The bill, originally meant to update a 2004 law in light of rapid advances in the science of procreation, would also uphold bans on surrogate motherhood and assisted procreation for gays.

The debate coincided with news of France’s first “saviour sibling,” a designer baby conceived in vitro to provide stem cells to treat a sibling suffering from a severe blood disorder.

Critics of the bill said last-minute changes by deputies of the governing conservative UMP party meant the revision would hardly change the restrictive law currently on the books. The text retains tight limits for research on embryonic stem cells, a technology the Church vigourously opposes because the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) method used to produce them creates extra embryos that are later discarded.

“The Catholics have succeeded in imposing their view on embryos and seem to be succeeding in their attack on this method,” said François Olivennes, a leading fertility expert, told Europe 1 radio. “We already have a very retrograde law compared to those in Spain, Britain, Belgium, Netherlands and all of Scandinavia. Nothing is advancing.”

“We propose the authorisation” of this research, said Alain Claeys, a deputy from the opposition Socialist Party.

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(Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois n Paris August 31, 2010/Jacky Naegelen)

The French Catholic Church has made bioethics a priority issue and overseen reports, public meetings and lobbying efforts to oppose an easing and aim for a tightening of the current law. The bill does not meet all the Church’s demands, however. Among other things, it supports prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome, which if found usually leads to an abortion.

Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois kept up Catholic criticism of controversial new medical techniques, saying the “saviour baby” whose birth was announced on Tuesday was produced to be used to heal another child. “Are we going to become instruments? I’m completely opposed to that,” he said. Ten other bishops issued a statement calling the technique an ethical regression and asked: “What will the child say when it finds out it was a ‘designer baby’?”

Read the full story here.

For French speakers, here’s the Europe 1 interview with Professor Olivennes about the law:

Here’s a France24 report in English on the “saviour baby.”

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