Questioning new appointments to the French National Consultative Ethics Committee

A decree dated September 27, 2016 and published in the Official Journal on October 5, 2016 lists the new committee members appointed to the French National Consultative Ethics Committee for health and life sciences (CCNE). The mandate for half of the committee members had expired on April 13, 2016 and the appointment of the new members had been expected for several months. This procedure is provided for in the founding texts of the CCNE.

The 40 members of the CCNE, nominated for a 4-year (renewable) term have the task of “shedding light on scientific advances, pointing out new challenging social issues and observing changes from an ethical viewpoint. The committee constantly encourages reflection on bioethics by contributing to controversial discussions among citizens, without seeking to control the debate.”

The appointment of the new Committee members occurs at a time when many social issues, particularly Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) for female couples and singles, are being discussed in a tense atmosphere. The French President of the Republic declared that on this controversial subject he intends to follow the Committee’s recommendation, which has been awaited since 2013, in a considerable social turmoil. CCNE’s president, Jean Claude Ameisen, who is beginning his second term, has just declared: “This subject must be treated carefully and with no haste since it is the first time the Committee has examined it in a wider perspective: ART for female couples and single women, gamete donation and anonymity, conservation of oocytes, and surrogacy. These new appointments, with new viewpoints bring in fresh air. We hope to be able to make our recommendation on ART by the end of the year or the beginning of 2017”.

Furthermore, Jean-Claude Ameisen states that he might organize, by autumn 2017, «a national consultation on bioethics, and then produce a report on this subject before the legislators start revising the bioethics law.”

In 2013, the previous major reappointments generated surprise and anger: religious figures were evicted and replaced by lay members, and many members who could have been re-appointed were replaced by socialist figures. This could be seen as a political ploy designed by the government, and led Jean Leonetti to declare: “Instead of changing its’ position on major ethical issues, the government prefers to change its’ ethical committee.”

According to the journalist, Dr. Jean-Yves Nau: “Currently, the Committee is practically at a stand-still. No recommendations were made since last January, and the appointments of new members have been awaited since last April. Six unproductive months… The most malicious gossips said that this idle period was a political ploy of the government and the president; to avoid bringing to light social divisions on such a major issue as ART for single women and/or homosexuals; let the “Hydra-headed” surrogacy” sleep.      

Alliance VITA’s General Delegate Tugdual Derville states:

“The primary responsibility of politicians is to protect the life and dignity of the most vulnerable people. To achieve this they need to be enlightened by experts and counselors, due to the growing complexity of subjects brought about by exponential changes in biotechnology. Provided, however, these elected officials do not hand over their bio-political responsibility on individuals who are not independent, some of whom are both judge and jury. Nowadays, this bio-political responsibility is essential for the future of humanity. Yet, this type of Committee has an inherent obligation to obtain consensual positions and this leads, all too often, either to give halfway conclusions (meaning they are not based on a clear anthropological viewpoint, but on ethical relativism), or to unclear positions, leading to differing interpretations. ‘c.f. the idea of: “exceptions for euthanasia”). In some cases, bioethics becomes the art of complicating simple things, as if to duck the issue so to speak. Did Robert Badinter really need an ethics committee to demand the abolition of the death penalty? We observe that, any bioethical position which strays from prohibiting killing as the founding principle of a social agreement, falls into ambiguity. This doesn’t prevent us from carefully reading the CCNE analyses, which are often very sound and to have a real dialogue with some members of the Committee for mutual clarification.        

Neither an individual, nor a moral person can delegate to another the responsibilities or the principles which should guide his conscience”.

CCNE Composition (1 president and 39 members) :

Twelve figures are named for the first time to the CCNE, and 5 previously named members begin their second term.


5 individuals belonging to the “main philosophical and spiritual families”

19 individuals chosen for their “qualifications and interest in ethical problems”

15 individuals from the field of research