The debate on the new bioethics bill didn’t end on June 29, 2021, when the French Parliament finally adopted the text. A referral has now been filed with the Constitutional Council by 80 parliamentarians from right and center parties (Republicans or “LR” and Union of Democrats and Independents or “UDI”) on the grounds of “scientism with unlimited boundaries”.
Their criticism is based on several well-defined bioethical axes, and steers clear of the hotly debated social issues, such as extending “ART to all”, without medical justification. An article in “Le Figaro” points out that “the jurists are well aware that the Constitutional Council is reluctant to intervene in social issues”.
This referral specifically draws attention to the important role of constitutional limitations for human beings protection and human dignity by enforcing regulatory boundaries to research since science should not be the sole determining factor for ethics.
Two main axes are adressed:
1st Axis: Embryo Research
Indeed, the new law contradicts the ethical regulations which are already in vigor, namely article 16 of the Civil Code, which specifies 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.”
Not only does this new law blatantly disregard the established regulatory criteria for research on embryos and stem cells, but it also authorizes the creation of genetically modified human embryos and human-animal chimeras. Moreover, it violates the international 14-day standard which prohibits the in-vitro culture of human embryos beyond this advanced stage of development where the first signs of the central nervous system can already be detected. These legislative “novelties” which allow embryos to be increasingly considered as mere sources of raw material have been voted, although they clearly denigrate the respect due to human embryos. These far-reaching legislative changes were adopted “leaving the dignity of the human being unprotected against research interests “, explain the MPs who qualify these changes as a “complete paradigm shift”.
Nowadays it is obvious that research on animals, including those in fetal or embryonic form, benefits from more protective regulations than research on the human embryo itself. Why shouldn’t the precautionary principle, which provides constitutional protection for the environment, be applicable for protecting the human species ?
2nd Axis: Legal Protection Against Eugenics
Indeed, allowing human embryos to be genetically modified constitutes an unprecedented breach, cracking open the door to an era of genetically modified human beings. In their referral, the MPs warn that “by authorizing the creation of transgenic embryos without specific objectives or regulatory limits, the integrity of the embryo, the integrity of our genetic heritage, and consequently that of the human species is being undermined.” They also emphasize that it could “jeopardize the ban on eugenics” and that “by design, fundamental research is bound to advance someday towards clinical stages”.
Bear in mind that in 1994, when the first bioethics law was enacted, the Constitutional Council ruled that the “primacy of the human being, respect for the human being from the inception of life, the inviolability, integrity and non-marketability of the human body and the integrity of the human species» are the very provisions which help ensure the constitutional principle of protecting human dignity. Now, more than ever, these constitutional values must be unequivocally reaffirmed, and, above all, their application must be guaranteed.
Other serious incoherencies in the bioethics law were also pointed out. For example, article 20 allows a pregnant woman the discretion of whether to reveal medical information concerning the health of her unborn child to her spouse. However, for infants conceived by sperm donation, the donor would automatically be informed if a genetic abnormality is detected, while the intended father, or the lesbian partner, would not necessarily be notified. This is a de facto breach of equality which undermines the system of liability for parents and bypasses the mutual duties of spouses towards their children.
Normally, the Constitutional Council must render its’ decision within one month’s time. Nevertheless, since the government wants to implement certain decrees very quickly, especially “ART for all”, it could ask the Constitutional Council for an emergency ruling, thus shortening its’ allotted time to one week.