Bioethics Bill: Human Embryo Research What is at Stake?

Excerpts from the hearing at the French Senate, pronounced by Alliance VITA’s Director of Training and Research, Blanche Streb, regarding the bioethics bill:

It is no longer rational to consider the human embryo on two separate levels: either for procreation or for research. Indeed, the same human cells are being used, destroyed, cultivated, and used for research protocols or for innovative therapy. These two visions cannot be reconciled. And they will continue to take separate directions. Why? Because what is under way is an international driving force in favor of artificial procreation and biotechnology, to bypass the infertility issues we are facing. A huge marketplace to be developed.

Genetically-modified Babies and Artificial Gametes

As you are well aware, the first genetically-modified babies have arrived at our doorstep, and not only via the controversial CRISPR technique. Many infants are born more frequently using the “3-parent IVF” technique.

In article 17 of the new bill, these techniques would now be implemented to manufacture transgenic embryos, for research purposes. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the next step. We all know that once a technique has been accepted, the next controversial permutation is already in the pipeline: to implement embryonic therapy. The other claim that goes with it is to perform research on artificial gametes (Articles 14 and 15).

The idea that lies behind these claims is that of having a baby at any cost, regardless of the expense, even if the unborn child himself must pay the toll. And this is absolutely contradictory because, at the same time, there is more and more embryonic and fetal screening. Pre-implantation diagnosis is being considered, even for non-hereditary pathologies. The debates have showed the actual pressure on this subject. Performing embryonic “quality control” goes with the misguided illusion that these techniques are a guarantee and necessary to create a child.

This mind-set is a slippery slope of rushing headlong towards allowing pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for everyone: “PGD for all” and “all for PGD”. This calls for extreme vigilance.

Behind all this, new societal standards are emerging that praise “designer” babies who have been tinkered with, instead of unconditionally accepting an infant.

Modification of guidelines for embryos

If a simple declaration is enough for using hESCs (human embryonic stem cells), human embryos would be increasingly treated as mere instruments or raw material. This eliminates the requirement to prove that no other alternative exists for using these cells. This would indirectly lead to an increased use of human embryos.

This weakens the regulatory guidelines for using embryos and hESCs, and encourages more irregularities: such as attempting to produce artificial gametes and create human-animal chimeras; some of the future possibilities anticipated by this bill. These modifications only serve one purpose: to make the administrative paperwork easier for a minority of researchers, joined together in expert think tanks to support this law.

This raises some questions. Will other researchers’ viewpoints be taken into consideration: those who also study treatment and future advances in regenerative medicine, but using different “raw materials” that do not represent an ethical issue? Have they been solicited to present their studies, their progress, and their needs?

Consequences of allowing 14-day in vitro development

At this advanced stage of development, the first signs of the central nervous system can already be detected. The implantation takes place prior to day 7. At this stage in the culture, one can retrieve various differentiated cells (such as cells from the liver or the retina). However, the message being parlayed is that cells from human beings at early stages in their lives can be used to heal other human beings.

Regarding this point as well as on others, the current bill is planning to allow it because a few countries are beginning to know how to do it. So the law should allow it “just in case”. Basically, this is what is fairly new in this bill. Several of its’ articles recommend “allowing it”, since it may prove useful, and then we’ll see later about the consequences, after the disaster strikes…

If technical feasibility governs bioethics legislation, there will be no limits. The heavy argument is foreign competition, and the potential benefits. Does competition really have its place in bioethics discussions?

Yes of course, using human embryos as raw materials will give rise to projects, potential benefits, including financial ones. Does this mean that French Bioethics should sell its soul to the highest bidder?

There are two underlying principles in this bioethics law that have been neglected: that of protecting the integrity of the human species (especially in article 17 of this bill) and that of the article 16 of the Civil Code, which states that “the law ensures the individual’s inalienability, prohibits any attack on a person’s dignity and guarantees respect for all human beings from the beginning of their life. »

Nobody denies today that embryos are human beings and that fertilization is the unique point in time and space that signals the beginning of a new human life. The human embryo cries out to vindicate his humanity, and this is corroborated in the way embryos are coveted by ART. An embryo is already the human being he will become. Whether or not there is a parental project for his future does nothing to alter his nature.

Together we must endeavor to encourage a type of scientific research, which is respectable when it serves mankind, without ever degrading human beings to the status of objects.

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