Bioethics: militant manifesto by scientists at the risk of an « ethics without citizens »

On March 30, 2017, the French newspaper « Le Monde » published a column signed by 146 scientists, doctors and researchers, with a vehement complaint specifically naming the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation. As the main institution for Trisomy 21 research and inherited intellectual disabilities, the foundation was attacked specifically for its legal proceedings contesting human embryo research.

The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation contested the legality of some authorizations approved by the French Biomedical Agency which did not comply with the 2011 law. Already in 2015, the Paris administrative court cancelled authorizations for five research projects.

In answer to the accusations, the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation specified that the petition was launched “soon after the request that the foundation launched against the Biomedical Agency allowing research on the ‘3-parent’ IVF technique. This new technique uses cloning (nuclear transfer), the creation of a new embryo for research purposes and genome editing of the human being thus created. It is completely legitimate to contest this triple infringement of applicable bioethics law and international standards.”    

Among those signing the petition against the foundation, are long-standing militants who advocate using human embryos as research material. For example, Marc Peschanski, scientific director at I-Stem, who works on embryonic stem cells and the author of embryonic research whose work was declared illegal by the Council of State in 2014. Pierre Jouannet also signed it, rapporteur of the Academy of Medicine of a controversial report on genetic engineering of human embryos, in which he recommends developing research using technology allowing targeted genome editing, including on germ cells and human embryos. Dr François Olivennes, also signed the complaint, as a gynecologist who is openly favorable for allowing in France Medically-Assisted Procreation (MAP) for single women, or homosexual couples as well as for surrogacy.

Also signing is Professor René Frydman who has been accused and convoked by the Council of the Order of Physicians of the Hauts-de Seine department, where he practices as an obstetrician gynecologist. Indeed, in the March 17 2016 column, also published in « Le Monde », the gynecologist signed a manifesto, along with 130 doctors and reproductive biologists, where they requested extending medically assisted procreation (MAP) to single women and homosexual couples.

In this column, the signatories admitted to having infringed French law: “We, as doctors, admit to having helped homosexual couples have a child, even if it is against the law”.  

Professor Frydman also requested the development of oocyte donations as well as the implementation of genetic testing of embryos prior to transfer to the uterus by broadening the possibility of preimplantation diagnosis for all in vitro fertilizations. Shortly thereafter, a bill was submitted in reference to this militant manifesto, by Deputy Jean-Yves Le Déaut, aiming to extend preimplantation diagnosis.

Shocked by the public declaration of an illegal act whereby the perpetrator could be imprisoned for 5 years and charged a 75,000 € fine, an association in Lyons challenged before the Regional Council 4 of the gynecologists from Lyon who had signed the petition. When summoned for conciliation on October 25, 2016? (2017 en text français) the doctors denied having practiced any illegal act and explained “that the tagline was never submitted to them and that they reject it”.

In January 2017, Professor René Frydman followed up the manifesto by publishing a book, with the list of the signatories, “The Right to Choose. Manifesto of doctors and biologists in Medically Assisted Procreation”. The conciliation was held on March 22 with the Hauts-de-Seine Council, with Professor Frydman signing the minutes of the hearing (ipsissima verba) whereby he “contested the use of a tagline, including the one published in “Le Monde” on March 17, 2016, that stated that the signatory doctors had broken the law, and indicated that, to his knowledge, no illegal act had been committed”.

Tugdual Derville, Alliance VITA’s General Delegate declares:

« Beyond the researchers’ protests, maybe we need to decipher their frustration, since France is not yet totally in line with the Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism, which is honorable. Yet a dual risk appears. A risk of « ethics without citizens » first: for the 5-year term just finishing, serious bioethical principles were given up without public authorities summoning the National Assembly as provided for by the law. Then, the risk of “science without conscience”: specialists claimed in turns to break the law, then change the law, then stifle anyone who opposes their ethical abuses. But where would be the logic in having bioethics for different entities, without any debate or discussion, even going as far as contesting completely legitimate acts in the judicial system to protest against illegal practices?

To defend the human embryos, we need genuine science, science that keeps discovering that they are human beings, and not scientism that claims, without proof, that they deserve to be treated as laboratory material, at the expense of denying their identity, their uniqueness and their vitality. »


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