Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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France’s new bioethics law: it’s bad, but not as bad as it might have been

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

June 24, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - After a lengthy process, the French Parliament has adopted a revision of the 1999 bioethics law, introducing several changes that will make embryo research and eugenic prenatal screening easier to perform. However, some of the worst aspects of the law as initially submitted by the government and specialized commissions of the National Assembly and the Senate were finally voted down after protracted discussions.

Vocal opposition and lobbying from pro-life organizations such as the “Alliance pour les droits de la vie” (Alliance for the rights of life), the “Fondation Jérôme-Lejeune”, and pro-life groups whose January “March for Life” attracted unprecedented numbers of participants, all played a role. As did, undoubtedly, the numerous pro-life vigils held in churches in France in November and again, in Paris, last month.

A number of Internet petitions for the rights of the embryo and against state-conducted eugenics also attracted thousands upon thousands of signatures as the law evolved.

During the parliamentary discussions the National Assembly championed the more conservative view. It pleaded for, and at the end imposed a form of status quo: embryo research will remain forbidden in principle, with exceptions.

The Senate, including the head of the commission that initially set out the text, Alain Minon, favored the opposite approach: a general authorization of destructive embryo research, with restrictions. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, named this a “regression in civilization” and, at the end of May, condemned the “thoughtless and not very courageous resignation” of their responsibilities by Senators who would vote for such a disposition.

The Senate did so all the same.

On Thursday, however, it finally voted in favor of a compromise version by 170 votes to 157 (in an infrequent move, Alain Minon voted against). The text had been approved under the same terms on Tuesday by the Assembly, by 94 votes to 68 (the majority of the 577 representatives did not vote).

The new law will come into effect as soon as it is signed by the competent ministers and published in the Journal officiel.

While it safeguards the symbolic ban on embryo research, exceptions – which are required to meet a series of criteria fixed by the law – will be assessed by the “Agence de biomédecine.” As a body, it favors this type of research and has been criticized by pro-life organizations as being both judge and interested party.

Only those embryos who no longer are part of a “parental project” after an in vitro fertilization and whose parents give their consent to the destructive research, will be used.

Under the law, providing information on prenatal screening to all expectant mothers will be compulsory. Women will be allowed to refuse these tests, but pressure for eugenic abortion on the part of medical practitioners and society is huge.

Organizations for the rights of the handicapped, and especially those who have Down’s syndrome, say they are disappointed. Ninety-six percent of unborn babies tested positive with Down’s syndrome are already being aborted as it is.

Other points of the new law include regulation of umbilical blood collection and storage. It also states that egg and sperm donation will be open to all adults. Gynecologists will be required to “regularly inform” their patients about egg donation.

In vitro fertilization will be open to all couples, married or not, and they will no longer be required to have been together for two years, as was the case up to now. On the other hand IVF and other artificial procreation procedures will only be available when a genuine infertility has been shown to exist within the couple, thus excluding homosexual pairs. From the start, surrogate motherhood was rejected in the interest of both mothers and children.

Things could have been much worse. But the debate has shown that opposition between the culture of life and the culture of death is becoming more radical. Representatives expressing pro-life points of view have been violently labeled as subservient to the Catholic church, an unpardonable “sin” by several representatives: religion is definitely not welcome in the French Parliament. And natural law is equated with religion.

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