Bioethics Law: A Close Analysis After French Senate 2nd Reading

At the 2nd reading of the French bioethics bill, the Senate made significant modifications, removing several clauses which had provoked strong public dissent.

  • Article 1, allowing ART without any medical reason for couples of women or any single woman, was finally rejected, and this shows the obvious divergent viewpoints. This provision, which is unfair and discriminating against children, would have introduced the “right to a child” even if it meant depriving the child of a paternal bond, and possibly denying him any filiation whatsoever, in the case of double gamete donations.
  • The senators maintained the ban on manufacturing animal-human chimeras and transgenic human embryos, thereby acknowledging that red lines exist and cannot be violated with impunity. We must keep in mind that respecting the integrity of the human species is the centerpiece of human ecology.
  • The clause allowing healthy babies to be aborted up until the date of birth, by using the vague and unverifiable criterion of “psychosocial distress”, was revoked after being overwhelmingly criticized by prominent figures of all political parties who were shocked and compared this violence to an infanticide.

The many contradictory clauses alternatively adopted by the Senate and the National Assembly over the first and second readings of the text bring to light the intense controversies and grave injustice that this bill creates, far from the consensus initially promised by President Macron.

In their last vote, the senators have adopted a cutting-edge legislative standpoint, genuinely bioethical, focusing on ecological, environmental and human issues, which were fundamentally missing from the government’s initial bill.

Yet, there are still several disputable and incongruous issues in the latest version adopted by the Senate.

Key Measures Adopted

I – Senate Rejects Extending ART and Oocyte Auto-preservation (Articles 1- 4)

1) Refusing the “Right to a Child” (Articles 1 and 2)

At the 2nd reading, the Senate decided to prioritize the rights of a child over the right to a child. In the founding principles of the bill, the senators incorporated a clause which specifies that “the right to a child does not exist.”

Subsequently, the Senate rejected Article 1, which extended ART “to couples of women or to any unmarried woman,” together with the reimbursement of this procedure by Social Security. This article was overruled just when another amendment allowing post-mortem ART was inadvertently adopted.

Article 2, which provided for oocyte self-preservation without any medical reason, was also canceled.

Besides, the Senators, as at the 1st reading, crossed out section 2bis, which proposed to conduct a national program to fight infertility including research on and prevention of the causes of infertility, arguing that it is not a legislative matter. Moreover, an amendment calling for an infertility report was also rejected, whereas this clause could have led to proactive policies to prevent or restore fertility, which are currently non-existent.

2) A Confusing Revision of Articles 3 and 4

  • Article 3 is dealing with the subject of lifting the anonymity for gamete donations. The initial draft which was approved by the National Assembly during the 2nd reading, stipulated that the donor had to reveal his identity if the child requested it when he reached age 18. Consistent with their decision at the 1st reading, the senators have insisted on keeping it a donor prerogative whether or not to disclose his identity upon the child’s request. As a result of this significant modification, the so-called lifting of anonymity will not have much impact. This hypocritical position is a ticking time bomb and extremely detrimental to the child.
  • Oddly, although Article 1 regarding ART for female couples had been deleted, Article 4 was incongruously This article defines the rules for establishing parentage in the case of an ART made by a women couple. At both the 1st and 2nd readings, the National Assembly recognized both “women” as parents. The Senators rewrote this article and established that neither two maternal nor two paternal filiations for the same child is possible. A distinction is made between the woman who gives birth and who will automatically be considered as the child’s mother, and the other woman, who must file for adoption. Until this point adoption was reserved to married couples, but the Senate has extended adoption to unmarried couples who live together or who have signed a civil solidarity agreement (“PACS”), without any debate nor any impact study. And furthermore, the second partner would be granted the advantage of an accelerated procedure for the adoption.
  • In Article 4bis, dealing with children born abroad from surrogacy, the Senate maintained the ban to transcribe foreign birth certificates onto the French civil registry. But astonishingly and incoherently, the transcription of adoption judgments is allowed, without even mentioning the injustice of this practice. It is to be reminded that in a recent case law, the Court of Cassation allowed the transcription for these birth certificates established abroad, in total disregard of the fact that surrogacy constitutes a fraud against French law.

 

II – Ever More Instrumentalizing Human Embryos as Research Material (Articles 14, 15, 16, 17)

1) Some Clauses Remain which Loosen The Rules on Embryo Research

In the latest version adopted by the Senate, articles 14-17 loosen the rules on human embryo research:

  • The current draft maintains a 14-day deadline for embryo research, as was voted at the 2nd reading in the National Assembly. Until now, a deadline of 7 days had been strictly upheld. The increasing use of embryos as laboratory material puts the human embryo at risk of being used for commercial exploitation.
  • The proposed bill also loosens the rules for performing research on human embryonic stem cells, compared to human embryo research protocols. Henceforth, this type of research would only necessitate filling out a simple declaration to inform the French Agency of Biomedecine, compared to requesting prior authorization for a research protocol before using embryos.
  • Under the new bill, once the French Agency of Biomedecine is informed of the research protocol, artificial gametes could be manufactured from embryonic stem cells or reprogrammed stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Nonetheless, the bill specifies that any artificial gametes obtained from embryonic stem cells must not be fertilized.

2) The Senate Reintroduces Safeguards to Ensure the Respect of Human Integrity

The Senate amended several clauses that threatened the integrity of the human species:

  • Although the National Assembly originally passed articles 14 and 15 that authorized manufacturing chimera embryos by inserting human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) into animal embryos, these were both subsequently deleted by the Senate.
  • In article 17, as at the 1st reading, the Senate maintained the ban on creating chimerical embryos and gave an explicit description of this practice. Any procedures to modify the genome of a human embryo or to create embryos for research purposes are specifically banned. Nonetheless, an amendment was adopted stating that this ban concerns embryos conceived “by the fusion of gametes”, without deciding whether or not embryos could be created using other methods.

 

III – More Prenatal Screening: The Senate Rejects the Controversial Measures (Articles 19, 20,21)

 (1) The Most Controversial Measures Were Rejected by the Senate

At the 2nd reading, , the National Assembly surprisingly adopted in the middle of the night an amendment specifying “psychosocial distress” as a criterion for abortion until date of birth This misguided interpretation of the original statute that “pursuing pregnancy seriously jeopardizes the woman’s health” was deleted by the Senate as soon as it went to committee (Article 20).

The Senate did not reintroduce the PGD-A (Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis) to detect aneuploidies or chromosomal abnormalities in embryos prior to in vitro fertilization such as Down syndrome. This article (19ter) had originally been approved by the Senate bioethics committee at 1st reading but was ultimately rejected (Article 19ter). Already today, there are fewer than 200 Down syndrome babies born annually. Authorizing PGD-A would have inevitably opened the eugenic door even wider by screening for other non-hereditary, and thus unpredictable, criteria.

 

(2) Several Clauses to Amplify Prenatal Screening Got Senate Approval

Although the bill’s latest version avoids some eugenic transgressions, the Senate did approve other measures which could make prenatal screening practices worse.

  • The Senate did not rescind the technique of the so-called “savior sibling”, which was reintroduced by the National Assembly at 2nd reading (Article 19 bis A). Authorized since 2004 “savior siblings” are produced using Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) technique, combined matching HLA tissue types (PGD-HLA). The technique consists in two screening processes for embryos produced by in vitro fertilization. The first selects a healthy embryo without the sibling’s disease, and the second chooses embryos with genetically compatible HLA tissue types, for the purpose of using the healthy baby’s umbilical cord stem cells to treat a sick sibling. In 2nd reading at the National Assembly, this practice was reintroduced and extended by endorsing multiple in vitro fertilization attempts with subsequent double screening of embryos until an HLA compatible embryo can be manufactured.
  • Article 20 abolishes the one-week period of reflection before abortion for medical reasons. The Senators rejected several amendments to reintroduce this cooling-off period.

 

Conclusion

After two readings in each assembly the disparity and conflicting views of both assemblies are obvious. At this point, the single wise course of action is for the government to withdraw this bill, instead of doggedly promoting these controversial issues that deeply divide French citizens.

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