The French National Assembly has voted to maintain current restrictions on human embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.
As part of a review of the country’s bioethics regulations, the Assembly voted 73 to 33 on a Bill to maintain the status quo. The bill is now due to go before the Senate for a second time later this month.
ESC involves the destruction of human embryos. The French restriction limits what one church leader has called “state-sponsored eugenics”.
At the initial reading of the Bill in February, the National Assembly supported the Government’s more conservative, existing stance.
But in April the Senate amended the Bill to allow ESC research to be authorised in cases monitored by the National Biomedicine Agency.
While ESC research is generally banned in France, an amendment to the law in 2004 allows researchers to undertake research that could lead to ‘major therapeutic progress’ for serious diseases that have no known cure.
That research is only permitted using ‘spare’ embryos left over from IVF and on cell lines imported from other countries, created in the same conditions.
Creating embryos for research purposes is prohibited under French law but the Senate’s amendments, rejected by the National Assembly, would have opened the floodgates.
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, head of the Roman Catholic Church in France, said any liberalisation of the law would pave the way for ‘state-sponsored eugenics’.
Three years ago, a renowned British adult stem cell expert took his expertise abroad because he said the UK’s bias towards embryo research was preventing him from helping people.
Colin McGuckin quit his position as Professor of Regenerative Medicine at Newcastle University in 2008 to pursue adult stem cell research, which does not involve the destruction of human embryos.
The research has consistently shown itself to be more successful but funding has been an issue.
“More reasoned balance”
Prof McGuckin said he had decided to work in France where there was a “much more reasoned balance” between embryonic and adult stem cell research.
He said: “The bottom line is my vocation is to work with patients and help patients and unfortunately I can’t do that in the UK.”