Bioethics law: tensions, disappointments, relief … A story of three years of debates

“On June 29, when the bioethics law is voted, I will feel rather proud. Relieved too. “ It is Laurence Vanceunebrock, LREM MP, who speaks. “Proud, because the law on assisted reproduction is a law of equality. “ Relieved “Because what I will keep from this text is its duration. “ Namely: three years of reflection, three back and forth Assembly-Senate for six readings, night sessions and more than 5,000 amendments.

Initially, a campaign commitment in 2017. Emmanuel Macron president, access to medically assisted procreation (PMA), until now reserved for heterosexual couples, will be extended to single or homosexual women. The measure must be incorporated into bioethics laws, which are scheduled to be revised every seven years. But, before, Emmanuel Macron hears “Leave time for debate”. Is.

→ ANALYSIS. In the Senate, end of the game for the bioethics law

Under the aegis of the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE), States General were launched in January 2018 to survey society on assisted reproduction, embryo research, etc. At the same time, a parliamentary information mission was set up. At its head, a president, Xavier Breton – LR deputy, Catholic, conservative -, and a rapporteur, Jean-Louis Touraine – LREM, freemason and ultra-progressive. Their mission: to hear experts, sociologists, associations… The pair works well. “There was mutual respect, politics at its best”, recalls Laurence Vanceunebrock. A 300-page report was published in January 2019.

“We were holding our breath”

Nine months later, the examination begins in session. The discussions are intense, the deputies are listening. Marc Delatte, LREM deputy and general practitioner, evokes, his voice interrupted by emotion, his patients with Down’s syndrome, in full discussion on the possibility of extending the preimplantation diagnosis (1) to chromosomal abnormalities, including Down’s syndrome.

But it is also time for the balance of power. “There were times a bit tense”, admits Jean-Louis Touraine. Among the opponents: Xavier Breton and Patrick Hetzel. “Bioethics is one of the few reforms that has not been the subject of an accelerated procedure. However, we felt that the majority wanted to impose it ”, points out MP LR. He keeps in mind “Moments of anguish” :“We were holding our breath”, during the votes on the wire: that on the Ropa (2), the preimplantation diagnosis or the post-mortem PMA… On October 15, 2019, a very large majority adopted the text (359 votes for, 114 against). “In these moments, a form of solemnity seizes you”, remembers Jean-Louis Touraine.

“Hopes for consensus are shattered”

As we go back and forth, the climate for debate continues to deteriorate. “The seesaw began when the Senate picked up the bill,”, estimates Muriel Jourda, Senator LR and co-rapporteur. However, on February 3, 2020, the upper house, with a right-wing majority, validates, at first reading, the enlargement of the PMA. But the reimbursement is limited to cases of medical infertility. “From there, PMA parasitized the rest of the debate. Hopes for consensus were shattered. “

Especially since the health crisis is delaying. In July 2020, it is necessary to organize a session “ extraordinary “, just before the holidays, so that members can comply with second reading. The majority is annoyed by the brakes posed by the opposition, which denounces the haste of the majority! The law is adopted on 1er August 2020, overnight, on the last day of the parliamentary session. Jean-Louis Touraine is ” happy “, Patrick Hetzel has the impression of having debated “Forced march”. All major changes made by the Senate have been erased. But the parliamentary ping-pong must continue. The second reading of the text at the Palais du Luxembourg, is announced for February 2021.

“The positions had hardened”

The 3rd, twist: the senators reject the extension of the PMA, yet voted exactly a year earlier. “The positions had hardened”, denounces Laurence Vanceunebrock. From then on, an impossible dialogue begins. “A joint committee was to establish a common text, but once again the deputies did not take our work into account”, deplores Muriel Jourda.The CMP, “Shipped in 20 minutes”, act of irreconcilable disputes. “There, I tell myself that the case is folded. That the deputies will vote their own version of the text, making fun of the Senate… ”

Except… the end of the parliamentary session is approaching and no bioethics is on the agenda. Soon the rumor is about a third reading ” in May “. And an adoption ” in July “. After two years of“Transitory enthusiasms, which make one day you believe in it, the next you get impatient” (Jean-Louis Touraine), everything is accelerating. The text was announced in committee on 1er June at the Palais-Bourbon. On the 9th, it is validated during the session. Opponents are trying to “Scrap”, by tabling more than 1,000 amendments. In vain. In both camps, weariness does not exist. On June 10, around 1:30 a.m., the text was adopted. Laurence Venceunebrock is “Happy but flushed”. Patrick Hetzel, “Disappointed” and “Exhausted”. As if “A steamroller had passed”.

“Don Quixotes facing the windmills”

The rest is a formality. On June 24, during the final return of the text to the Senate, it was rejected without examination. Faced with irreconcilable differences, the Assembly will have the last word on Tuesday, June 29. For Muriel Jourda, the disappointment is “Immense”, while left-wing senators recall that “This is the first time that a bioethics text will be voted without consensus”. To object, at this stage? This is “To be Don Quixote facing the windmills, laments Muriel Jourda. With each new revision of the laws, a threshold is crossed. “

→ READ. Bioethics: the battle for influence of associations

In fact, Jean-Louis Touraine is already thinking about the aftermath. “There will be other stages. PMA for transgender men, for example. ” Not enough to discourage his LR colleague, Patrick Hetzel. “The law will be voted, but the Constitutional Council can still challenge it”, he persuades himself. The government does not despair of promulgating the law ” as soon as possible “, advisers already working at “The application of important decrees, in particular that relating to assisted reproduction”.


The uninformed general public

The majority of French people ignore the content of the bioethics law, according to an Ifop poll for the pro-life movement Alliance Vita (Survey conducted on 1er and June 2 with a representative sample of 1,011 people, by self-administered online questionnaire) :

53% of respondents unaware that Social Security will reimburse assisted reproduction, even without medical infertility.

55% do not know that the law authorizes the procreation of children having no biological link with their parents (reception of a supernumerary embryo conceived for another couple).

49% do not know that the text authorizes the creation of chimeric embryos (addition of human cells in an animal embryo).


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