On 14th October 2010, the administrative court of Paris rejected the resort en illegality introduced in 2008 by the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation against the Agency of Biomedicine (ABM) within the framework of an authorisation of research on human embryonic stem cells. This authorisation was granted to the I-Stem institute to model a inherited genetic disease, the facioscapulohumeral dystrophy with cells from human embryos with this affection and rejected after a preimplantation diagnosis.
An illegal authorisation?
Indeed, according the Foundation, this authorisation does not meet any of the two conditions of derogation to the prohibition of research on the embryo posed by the law: “the requirement of major therapeutic advances” and “the absence of alternative method of comparable effectiveness”. Yet the court judged it in another way.
Concerning the first condition, it estimates that “the object of the authorised research tends to the development of therapeutic strategies to fight against the serious and incurable disease in question“. Yet, the research challenged enters in a framework of fundamental research, which by definition is directed at the scientific knowledge and not directly the therapy. The therapeutic reality of the project is not identified in the writings of the ABM.
Directed at the second condition, the court judges that Jérôme Lejeune Foundation did not prove the existence of an “alternative method” (the iPS cells). However, it seems that this is a reversal of the burden of proof: the ABM, in order to give its authorisation, must assure that no alternative exists, what it manifestly did not do. Indeed, yet in 2008, the American researchers from the Institute of stem cells of Harvard and the University of Stanford have published the results of works proving that it was possible to transform adult cells collected in patients into induced stem cells and then into specialised cells reproducing the disease concerned. Pr George Daley, one of the greatest specialists of the issue, then was pleased about to be able to generate cell lines “for a very great number of diseases, at the same time for our team, our collaborators, and also for the whole scientific community. Our work is only the beginning of an initiative which will allow studying thousands of diseases in Petri dishes.”
Why the ABM then authorised a project, unjustifiable regarding the law? It provides us with an answer which today turns against it. “This condition [of alternative method of comparable effectiveness] seems superfluous regarding scientific realities.” Thus the ABM confesses to be free from the legislation considering some of the provisions as unnecessary. For his part, Pr Marc Peschanski, director of the I-Stem laboratory and of the research project incriminated, has himself congratulated the ABM, during its audition before the parliamentary mission, not to be too much attached to a strict respect of the law, but to have played the role of “protecting screen of scientists vis-à-vis opponents to research on the embryo“.
Jérôme Lejeune Foundation announced on Friday 15th October that it appeals this decision: “We could expect from the administrative judge that he sanction the Agency of biomedicine, which judges the law, rewrites it, and decrees the superfluous character of some of the provisions. The administrative Court of Appeal of Paris will may be have this courage“, declared the lawyer of the Foundation, Maître Antoine Beauquier.