Brussels, 07 Oct 2004
Presenting new national measures regulating stem cell research, Research Minister François d'Aubert and Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy announced that France is to allow the import of embryonic stem cells for research purposes.
This is the first application of the law on bioethics, passed in July 2004, authorising research on supernumerary frozen human embryos conceived in vitro and without a parental project.
Stressing that the measure was transitional, Mr Douste-Blazy explained that it had been put in place to ensure that researchers could start work on embryonic stem cell research before the new law comes into effect in spring 2005. 'In the meantime, researchers will use embryos imported from abroad,' said the minister.
Stem cell research raises 'considerable therapeutic hope' for sufferers of heart problems, diabetes and Parkinson's disease, stated Mr d'Aubert at a press conference. This type of research 'is of world importance' and it would have been unrealistic to try and prevent it, he argued, adding that it was 'important for research to have a judicial system that enables us to push forward in those very promising fields.'
Under the new law, French researchers will be able to 'work on superfluous embryos which are not subject to parental plans'. The ministers pointed out that many of the stem cells would come from fertilised human eggs around five or six days old.
Mr Douste-Blazy also announced the launch of a precise inventory of all human embryos presently frozen in France, the number of which is estimated at more than 118,000. According to Mr Douste-Blazy, 55 per cent of those embryos are still part of a parental project. 'It is therefore out of the question to use them,' he said, before re-reiterating his opposition to human cloning and reminding journalists that the law on bioethics made it 'a crime against the human species.'
Reacting to the announcement, Professor René Frydman, the 'father' of the first French test-tube baby, congratulated the government on the signing of the decree: 'This brings us, in France, the possibility to work on what should be, I think, a major step in medicine, as important as the discovery of antibiotics.'