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.”