France approves exceptional embryo screening

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: (Published 07 May 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:1186
  1. A Dorozynsk

    The French National Assembly has provoked controversy among doctors by ruling that genetic screening of reimplantation embryos should be authorised in exceptional cases. The ruling amends an earlier vote by the French Senate for a total ban on the technique. Some doctors fear that it may be a first step towards eugenics and have taken full page newspaper advertisements to publicise their worries.

    The exceptional cases will concern families at high risk of transmitting severe genetic diseases, and screening is to be carried out only for these diseases. The assembly agreed with the senate that eugenism as a social policy should be banned, but it said that couples in exceptional circumstances could nevertheless benefit from preimplantation screening. The amendment was approved as part of a sweeping bill on medically assisted reproduction; the voting was 315 for and 100 against, with 118 abstentions.

    Some doctors and ethicists fear that the ruling may open the door to the uncontrolled development of active eugenism. Professor Bernard Sele of Grenoble, a specialist in reproductive and developmental biology, fears that if some centres and not others are authorised to carry out genetic analysis of embryos, then the principle itself would become accepted, and these centres would promote the practice. “They would draw from it such prestige that they would be overcome by demands for in vitro fertilisation since only they could potentially provide a genetic guarantee of the descendence.”

    Others, such as Roger Henrion, professor of medicine in Paris, believe that such screening is perfectly justified so long as it is limited to the gene or genes linked to the disease in question. In an opinion article in Le Monde he points out that when amniocentesis was introduced in the early 1970s the threat of eugenism was brandished by many - as it was later when fetoscopy, embryoscopy, fetal blood testing, and other new techniques became available.

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