April 8, 2011 ( – The French Senate voted in favor of a revised bioethics law this afternoon, adding major changes to the text as it stood after approval by the Assembly in February. The pro-life Alliance pour les droits de la vie (Alliance for the rights of life) called the new text “catastrophic” and an “ethical abdication.”


“Fundamental human rights are being breached here, particularly children’s rights, our most vulnerable citizens,” they said.

Among the worst changes, the text as it now stands permits destructive embryo research. Since the 2001 revision of the law such research was prohibited in principle, with exemptions for “therapeutic” reasons authorized by the French Biomedical Agency. In the new regime it would be authorized in principle, albeit with some safeguards. This marks a major symbolic shift: human embryos would be considered as laboratory material as such.

Senators decided to bow down to members of the scientific community who had been lobbying for a change in the law, despite the 150,000 embryos that are already kept in frozen storage since the first bioethics law allowed them to be frozen and kept for future use.

The president of the senatorial commission for bioethics, Alain Milon, a member of Sarkozy’s governing party, the UMP, explained during the debate that his own daughter does this type of work with embryos: “She went abroad to go on with her research.” Milon introduced several of the liberal changes to the text.

The Senate also voted down an amendment, which had been adopted against the government’s wishes, to limit doctors’ obligation to offer prenatal screening for genetic defects, including Down syndrome, to all pregnant women.

Several pro-life organizations, such as the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune, which funds research on “illnesses of the mind” and supports parents with children affected by trisomy, had worked hard to obtain non-systemization of screening. Already 96% of Down syndrome babies detected before birth are being aborted.

Yet another barrier was broken when the Senate voted for access to in vitro fertilization for “all couples.” This includes lesbian couples and would mean a major change in French law, which up to now stands firmly against homosexual adoption and parenting.

However, the Senators also went against the Assembly in refusing to allow persons who have no children of their own to donate sperm or ova. This would prevent women from freezing their ova for use after having completed their career, and it also puts a stop to systematic and yearly donation campaigns in schools, in the army and media, which the first version of the text planned for.

The text will now have to return before the Assembly for a second reading.

Pro-life groups are already preparing to make themselves heard, but the challenge lying ahead is significant. Most deputies and senators are in favor of legalized abortion, whatever their political color, making any initiative to obtain statutory respect for human life an uphill battle.


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