A Guide: why?
A few months after the revision of the laws of bioethics of 2004, planned for end of 2009 or beginning of 2010, some people are very interested in these delicate subjects and others avoid them thinking that “it is too complicated for me” or “all is already done, so what‘s the point?“. It is true that the revision of 2004 was not an example of democratic debate.
Yet, this time some signs let hope the debates will have another tone and the Guide politique de bioéthique (Political Guide of bioethics) published by the Association for the Foundation of Political Service in June 2008, proposes us to decode them. Under the direction of Elizabeth Montfort and Pierre-Oliver Arduin, the file is enriched with numerous philosophical, scientific or legal contributions. The persons who collaborated: Nicolas Forraz, Henri Bléhaut, Jean-Marie Le Méné, Tugdual Derville, Nicolas Mathey, Aude Mirkovic, Miroslaw Mikolazic and Jean-Frédéric Poisson. This Guide is aimed at enlightening the citizen and at helping him to fully participate in a debate which must not be confiscated by the legislator and the scientists. To really build the debate, it is useful to dare to ask various fundamental questions: what is bioethics? Why a revision every five years? Is the object of these laws to better protect the human being or, at the contrary, to open new breaches in the wall of protections that the law has always guaranteed?
Today the law follows the habits and the progress decides for the human person. Yet, is it correct to say or to let people say that the legislator and the scientist would have the “right to a child” and “the right to health”?
From the ambiguity of the word “bioethics” developed by Elizabeth Montfort, to the confusion of words described by Jean-Marie Le Méné, the reader says that it is now time for him to try to enlighten it, if she/he wants to assume his elector liability. Because the relationship between words and things reveals the intentions of the one who talks or writes, the elector must be informed. Jean Marie Le Méné mentions the “fighting words” which are empowered to not only describe the reality but also to create it. The best examples being the abortion transformed into VTP or MTP, and of course cloning called “therapeutic” to try to make it accept whereas it is not therapeutic at all. Tugdual Derville mentions the French “quicksand” which makes the debate difficult and sometimes impossible, in particular on the questions of medically assisted procreation (MAP). Too often, the appearing “good feelings” are sacrificed to bury the thought, the affect prevailing over the rational, regardless of the biological or psychological reality. Nicolas Mathey, in his legal analysis, notes that the law of 2004 is very ambiguous and that it contains numerous inconsistencies which lead it to prevaricate the reality and the scientific results. Idea also developed by Aude Mirkovic who shows that some practices are authorised by law whereas others are not, without understanding what justifies the accepted solutions. The Council of State recognises itself that “the current texts have difficulties (…) to find a total internal consistency“2. The research on embryo is an evident example and the chapter dedicated to the status of research on cord blood and adult stem cells by Nicolas Forraz illustrates it in a good way.
Embryo: human being, person?
Obviously everything relies on the respect we give to the embryo. Human being? Human person? Doctor Henri Bléhaut, invite us, on the scientific level, to consider the humanity of the embryo. It is not a question of faith nor the result of a philosophic demonstration, but only the evidence of a reality of a being that exists, biologically, physically and regardless of us and of the name we want to give it.
And to know if it is a person, Aude Mirkovic wonders: “why when it deals with the embryo, we think that we have to decide if it is a person or not?“. As if we mistake too often the notion of human person for the legal person. The legal personality “does not exhaust” the entire human person. Then, it is advisable to wonder: Do we want a society where some human beings would not be recognised as human persons?
Reversing the burden of proof
Jean-Marie Le Méné shows how the defenders of the embryo would take advantage to refuse proving the evidence. “To those who require a proof in due form of the humanity of the embryo, answer that by principle you refuse to follow this way. Take refuge with insolence beyond Aristotle’s words: “It is to be a boor not to distinguish between what requires a demonstration from us, and what, at the contrary, exempts us from it””. At the contrary it is the one who wants to destroy the embryo who have to prove first that the embryo is not a man. But, it is impossible.
Bioethics and law
The contribution of Miroslav Mikolzik, European deputy and member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety commission, shows how these debates are lively in France and in Brussels. The Resolution on the trade of human oocytes and the vote for the 7th Frame Program for research and development generated lively ethical discussions in the European hemicycle. Finally, most of the Parliament voted in favour of financing research on embryonic stem cells.
What’s the point in France? Jean Frédéric Poisson, deputy of the Yvelines, shows us that bioethics is a real political issue with the meaning of Georges Pompidou: The peculiarity of the political responsibility is only to choose between disadvantages. But “bioethics – as various other fields with heavy symbolic meaning – asks for the affirmation of limits, because humans must understand, including by the law, their conditions and requirements“.
1- Guide Politique de bioéthique, Association pour la Fondation de Service Politique, Editions Privat, juin 2008
2- Réflexions du Conseil d’Etat sur le droit de la santé, Rapport public, 1997, La Documentation française, Etudes et Documents n°49, p.286