In At 4:45 pm on Thursday 16 July 2013, French Parliament adopted the authorization of the research on the embryo with 314 votes against 223. In the middle of the summer, a legal and ethical turmoil is enshrined in the French law whereas the botched debate has been almost inexistent. The scientific anachronism is all the more scandalous that the Japanese government authorized three days later the opening of the first clinical trial in man on induced pluripotent cells (iPS).
The authorization of research on the embryo in France
Contrary to what has been announced, the real consequences of the vote of MPs which, for the first time in French legislation, registers the principle of non-protection of the human being, are heavy. They should be reminded:
1. The human embryo is presumed available to be used and thus destroyed by the research. Indeed, the transition to the principle of the authorization has relegated the human embryo to the rank of lab material, under the cover of compassionate arguments.
2. The burden of proof is no longer imposed to the scientist who researches on the embryo.
The researchers who then had to justify themselves if they wanted to research on the embryo now have the field free. The principle of precaution brandished in all other fields, disappears.
3. The human embryo called “supernumerary” becomes officially a reagent for the pharmaceutical industry. Because the research on the embryo must be only for medical purpose, and no longer present a perspective of major medical advances, the embryo becomes accessible for pharmaceutical industry which for a long looked to available and free supernumerary embryo to model pathologies or screen molecules.
4. The non-embryonic research will be sacrificed in the financing plans.
The opening of the research on the embryo will increase the delay France has already in both ethical and efficient research on iPS cells.
An inexistent debate: back on the government maneuvers
The legislative process to authorize the research on embryo did not match the challenge which is the dignity of the human being. The first milestone achieved in December 2012 at the Senate set the tone: a two-hour debate when ending the session to adopt the text. MPs took on, in the same state of mind, on Thursday 28th March, during a parliamentary window. The text is not adopted for lack of time and thanks to the determination of some opposition MPs. Persisting with its strategy by the back door, the government plans the text on Thursday, day when the hemicycle is almost empty, in the middle of the summer. The changes did not lack: after having brought forward the examination of the text in extremis, the government imposed the reserve and then blocked the votes, compensating this way the absence of majority MPs, and avoiding that any amendment is adopted, what would lead to the obligation of a new examination by the Senate. The debate is thus sterile: majority MPs have left the hemicycle, leaving around ten opposition MPs defending the embryo… for the symbol. These are the same MPs which submitted their case to the Constitutional Council (under examination when publishing).
Unanswered questions …
During the speech, the Minister of Research, Miss Fioraso, left questions unanswered. Trapped in a silence and the refusal to arguing she did not answer to some essential questions raised several times by opposition MPs:
1. Can the minister affirm that the human embryo is not a human being?
2. Did she receive representatives of pharmaceutical industry lobbies?
3. Why does she refuse to mention in the text that resorting to human embryos is reserved to public research teams, like some people propose it in order to overcome the suspicion on the interest of industrial companies?
4. Will a liberalization of the research on embryo adversely affect the conscience clause of researchers who would refuse to destroy human embryos within the framework of their works?
5. What is the precise budget France allocates and plans to allocate to the research on iPS cells which attract the credits and the human resources in some countries, particularly in Japan?
6. How does she owe to call for more independence of the Agency of Biomedicine whereas the ABM has been condemned by the Administrative Court of Appeal of Paris to have illegally granted a derogation of research on embryo?
7. Can the Minister (who pretended not to understand the question) guarantee that the research on embryo will no longer be used in order to improve MAP techniques, and particularly the development of the artificial uterus?
A scientific anachronism
When the law was voted in France the Japanese government authorized the launch of first global clinical trials of regenerative medicine on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), on man, for the treatment of the age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This authorization given to Pr Masayo Takahashi, in collaboration with the Institute for Biomedical Research and Innovation and Kobe Medical City Hospital General Center (hiPSCs), concerns a cohort of 6 patients with AMD. In Japan, the research on iPS cells became a priority.
The action One of Us, last resort for the citizens
Deprived from a real debate on the embryo, the citizens can make their voice heard thanks to the European citizen initiative ONE OF US. In France, more than 76,000 signatures have been collected, and several hundreds of persons have made a happening on the same day at the National Assembly, thus showing the opposition to the text. In the rest of Europe the initiative reached more than 820,000 signatures. But an effort remains to be done to reach one million signatures so that the European Commission revises the question of financing programs destroying the embryo.