On 11 December 2004, the Assemblée Nationale approved a bill on bioethics
which updates previous legislation from 1994 to take into account the latest
developments in scientific research. Key elements of the new
legislation are as follows:
Where there is a risk of a genetic disease being passed on to the foetus,
the legislation authorises the selection of a healthy embryo. Embryo selection
is also authorised as a means of providing a cure for a sibling.
As a rule, the legislation forbids research on embryos, except in the case
of research on embryonic cells for therapeutic purposes.
Similarly, cloning is forbidden unless it is for therapeutic purposes.
Once the legislation is in place the Government will ratify the Oviedo Convention
on Human Rights and Biomedicine.
On 9 December 2003, the Upper House of the French Parliament (the Sénat)
adopted 204 amendements to the text – voted in January 2002 – reforming
the 1994 Acts on Bioethics. The main changes proposed by the
Sénateurs refer to the issues of inter vivos organ
transfers, the cloning of embryos, and medically assisted procreation. Members
of the Lower House and the Upper House differ in their definition of the persons
allowed to donate an organ inter vivos. Under present legislation, the donor
must either be the donee’s father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother
or spouse. Under the text voted by the Lower House in January 2002, donors may
include anyone closely linked to the donee. Under the text as amended by the
Upper House, the list of potential donors may only extend (in addition to the
present donors) to the donee’s grandchildren, nieces, nephews, first cousins,
to his/her spouse’s children and, finally (but only after two years of
cohabitation) to his/her partner. Medically assisted procreation can at present
only be initiated and fully carried out at a heterosexual couple’s request.
The text voted in January 2002 by the Lower House allowed for the transfer of
frozen embryos to the surviving potential mother after the death of her partner.
The Upper House reverts to the present solution. According to the Sénateurs,
no transfer should be authorized after the breaking up of the couple as “the
legislator should not encourage the birth of an orphan child.” As for
the cloning of embryos, the text voted in January 2002 drew a distinction between
the cloning of embryos for reproductive purposes and cloning for medical purposes
to provide curative cells. Only the latter was to some extent made permissible.
The text, as it now stands after being amended by the Upper House, bans both
forms of cloning and provides for heavy criminal sentences in case of infringement.