PARIS, France, February 7, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – On Monday morning two vintage Citroën 2CV’s left onlookers astounded when they drove up to the monumental steps that lead to the main façade of the French National Assembly, climbing onto the side-walk and parking right under the noses of the police force guarding the Palais Bourbon.

Out stepped a retired engineer, Stanislas de Larminat, and famed French actor Michael Lonsdale, well known for major roles in the James Bond film Moonraker, The Day of the Jackal, Smiley’s People, and Of Gods and Men. The pair bore a heavy cardboard box with letters to every one of the 570 members of the French National Assembly asking for a moratorium on embryo research.

During the last few weeks, over 11,000 people signed the online petition accompanying the letter. Larminat and Lonsdale symbolically handed over one of the envelopes to Xavier Breton, a deputy from de Lyon region, who is heading a group of representatives trying to amend the law in order to ban all research on human embryos.

Even as the pair were presenting the petition, however, research laboratories and top geneticists in France were preparing to push forward with embryo research. Monday morning, Axel Kahn, president of the prestigious Descartes University in Paris and Director of Research at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), said in an interview that research on the human embryo is “legitimate and necessary.”

“Even if I consider the embryo to be a person, that is no argument in favor of not doing research on it, insofar as we do research at every age of the human person: it’s the basis of medical research, no less,” he said.

As the National Assembly is preparing to debate a new bioethics law on Tuesday, many public figures, health ministers and scientists have been arguing that France needs a more liberal law so as not to be “left behind,” compared with other nations which have few, if any safeguards on embryo-destructive research.

At this morning’s press conference, retired engineer Stan de Larminat’s explained how the petitions came to be: “When I saw what is happening: that French representatives are being asked to approve a law that turns human embryos into laboratory material, I knew I must act.”

He explained: “I had no mailing lists. No backing. I just drew up my letter asking for parliamentarians not to make themselves to blame through an irresponsible decision, and sent it to my friends.

“When they liked it, and signed, I contacted ordinary people.  I found a list of hotelkeepers: several signed up. People forwarded my e-mails on a person-to-person basis.”

De Larminat said that those who signed were simply “the ‘man in the street’” and that he is sure that the ordinary Frenchman does not want embryo research: “And that is the message we’re getting across to the political representatives.”

What started out as a private initiative blossomed into a full-fledged media event, with a successful press conference, national media coverage and the support of a well-loved and famous actor who decided to help on the sole strength of the demands de Larminat was presenting: “To save science and liberty at one and the same time, because liberty is power and power needs to be checked and balanced.”

Speaking to the press in front of the National Assembly, representative Xavier Breton said matters of scientific research in such critical areas should be decided by a nation’s citizens: “We are grateful, as politicians, to hear the people’s voice, it preserves us from being maneuvered by scientists and interested parties.”

Michael Lonsdale, who is known for his Christian commitment, said he participated in the event because he “believes in life.”

“Life is infinitely precious,” he said. “It is more and more exposed to modern research that is really mind-boggling. When you realize they are meddling with the very beginnings of life, it’s important to be very much alert. It’s a question of good life, of honest life, of life that is beautiful, and of not letting embryos to be exposed to God knows what manipulation. Because the Bad one is always present there.”

The revision of the French bioethics laws would, in the worst case scenario, authorize embryonic stem cell research completely. A less extreme possibility is that it would extend indefinitely the system introduced in 2004 for five years, which prohibits embryo research in principle but allows for exemptions decided by the French Agency for Biomedicine (ABM). The ABM itself officially promotes embryo research.

Several pro-life associations who today publicly supported Larminat’s call have pointed out that embryonic stem cells have yet to be used successfully in any therapy. The pro-life associations involved are the Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune, the Alliance pour les droits de la vie (Alliance for the Rights of life) and appelalaverite.com (“call for truth”). Together they represent tens of thousands of people.

The revised bioethics bill also aims, among other things to make access to artificial procreation easier for unwedded couples. It would widen the scope of pre-implantation diagnosis, and allow women to donate their eggs before having given birth themselves, with a perk added: part of the eggs would be deep-frozen for future use, when they themselves would feel ready for childbearing.