France to OK therapeutic cloning?

Leading researchers hopeful that a ban on somatic cell nuclear replacement will be lifted soon

By | July 13, 2005

One of a group of leading French scientists who have called on the government to lift a ban on human therapeutic cloning, told The Scientist this week that he is hopeful that the law will soon be changed.

Marc Peschanski from INSERM, the French national institute for health and medical research, and nine other leading researchers submitted a "petition" last week to the French National Assembly, calling for regulations covering human embryo research to be changed to allow therapeutic cloning.

Peschanski said France was in danger of falling behind in an important area of biomedical research because of the ban. He called the current law out-dated.

"Experiments in South Korea and the United Kingdom have made therapeutic cloning a scientific tool," he said. "My own team would benefit from access to therapeutic cloning techniques to find breakthroughs in medical research for illnesses, such as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease."

He added, "Scientists in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Israel are already allowed to use therapeutic cloning for research. There a growing realization that France needs to become more competitive and the laws have to be changed accordingly."

Peschanski, the first scientist in France to be granted a license to import human embryonic stem cells, told The Scientist he was hopeful that the ban would be lifted soon. "The president of the National Assembly, Jean-Louis Debres, has already written to me, saying he understands the concerns we expressed in our petition," Peschanski said.

However, he noted that public opinion was still opposed to cloning, which could delay the change. "I believe the law will be changed either this year or in three years time because any government will be reluctant to change the law in the run up to the next election in two years and offend voters," he said.

Peschanski said that the current ban on reproductive cloning should stay, and that the law should only be changed to allow therapeutic cloning to extract embryonic stem cells for life-saving treatment.

A new law on bioethics in France–adopted in June 2004–classifies reproductive cloning as a "crime against humanity" and carries a prison sentence of 30 years and a fine of 7.5 million euros; therapeutic cloning carries a sentence of 7 years in prison and a fine of a million euros.

The 10 scientists submitted their proposal to support a bid by Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg, a former minister of research and a member of the national assembly, to have article 25 of the law of bioethics, which bans human cloning for therapeutic purposes, amended.

Scientists who put their signatures to the petition include Etienne-Emile Baulieu, the former president of the Academy of Sciences, Alain Fischer from INSERM Necker, the author of the world's first effective gene therapy protocol, René Frydman, who produced France's first test-tube baby, as well as two former Nobel Laureates for Medicine--Jean Dausset and François Jacob.

"To prohibit the nuclear transfer is detrimental to those who are ill. They have a right to see progress in research to develop genuinely effective new therapies that can boost their chances of a cure. We ask for a law that authorizes research into therapeutic cloning, while submitting that research to a strict regulatory framework," the petition stated.

A spokeswoman for Debres said that the petition would be actively considered by a commission considering bioethics, the first step to a possible change of the law. A spokesperson for the health ministry declined to comment for this article.

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