research advances assume red lines

research advances assume red lines
research advances assume red lines

Editorial of the “World”. The long ovation which greeted, Tuesday, June 29 at the National Assembly, the final adoption of the bioethics bill was deserved. After two years of an intense procedural battle, the text opens a new right to both female couples and single women, that of medically assisted procreation (PMA). Widely awaited, contested by some, this progress mentioned by François Hollande in 2012 then promised by Emmanuel Macron in 2017 and finally voted by a large majority, shows that the country, if otherwise divided, can reach balanced compromises on reforms of society with complex issues.

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The logical focus on this societal reform presented as emblematic of the five-year term has surprisingly overshadowed another part of the text with consequences at least as considerable, but with mechanisms that are much more difficult to popularize. The new text lifts the ban placed so far on the creation of transgenic embryos and lightens the legal regime for the use of embryonic stem cells. The latter goes from an authorization regime to that of simple prior declaration instructed by the Biomedicine Agency, which should prevent legal remedies which tend to hamper research.

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Work on induced pluripotent cells (iPS), previously not clearly regulated, is also subject to the same declarative regime. However, these iPSs, made not from human embryos but from simple skin or blood cells for example, and capable of specializing in any cell type in the human body, are the basis of potentially dizzying developments: regenerative medicine and animal-human chimeras.

Address the shortage of grafts

The technique, which consists for example of injecting human tumor cells into mice to study the effectiveness of new treatments, is not new. What is new, however, is their implantation in animal embryos, as during the creation, announced in April, of monkey-human chimeric embryos, a first carried out by French, Chinese and American researchers. The ultimate goal of this work is to have human organs developed by animals – pancreas from pigs, for example – in order to overcome the shortage of transplants.

There is no question of agitating the fantasies evoked by the word “chimera” – the creation of beings half-human, half-animal – or that of grafts of animal cells in a human embryo which, for their part, remain strictly prohibited. However, it is clear that these scientific advances open up immense prospects, while involving the risk of terrible drifts, moreover pointed out by the Council of State: the emergence of zoonoses (infections transmitted from animals to humans) , the development in animals of a form of human consciousness, and even the production of human gametes. If the researchers say they are aware of these risks, solid red lines, which the law does not specify explicitly in the case of a fluctuating field, will have to be set by the Biomedicine Agency.

As early as 2018, these questions were set out in the opinion of the National Consultative Ethics Committee, drafted after long debates in anticipation of the parliamentary discussion. It is regrettable that political leaders have not taken care to involve and inform the public more directly – a difficult task it is true in the midst of a pandemic – in a field with so considerable ethical, medical, societal and even civilizational issues.

Also listen PMA for all: the long wait

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