December 8, 2021

France opens national bioethics debate

Discussion is sure to be passionate and highly political.

This week France launched a six-month long national consultation on hot-button bioethical issues. The results, involving scientists, medical practitioners, lawyers and the public, will help to shape a revised bioethics law, perhaps later this year.

The list of topics is long: from legalizing euthanasia to the development of artificial intelligence to organ donation to surrogacy for gay couples to genetic engineering. Debate is sure to be passionate and highly political.

Under President Emanuel Macron, the government has promised to update France’s laws on assisted reproduction, which currently limit the practice to heterosexual couples. According to France 24, “The restrictive legislation means single women and lesbian couples with sufficient funds often travel abroad for artificial insemination, while those without the financial means cannot – a situation France’s new gender minister, Marlene Schiappa, says is unjust.”

The government has set up a website for the “Etats généraux de la bioéthique” – the Estates General of bioethics, a reference to the 1789 assembly from which the French Revolution emerged. This is supposed to inform the public and gather reactions.

President Macron addressed religious leaders earlier in January and invited them to participate fully in the debate. He said that he wanted to ensure that France had a serious discussion about reforms and that the law responded responsibly to changes in technology and society. He could face polite but trenchant criticism from the new Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, who practiced as a physician for more than 20 years and has taught medical ethics. 

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