PARIS—The recent decision by the French government to ban for three years any genetic manipulation of the human embryo within the country's leading research centers follows a recommendation from its own expert committee on bioethical questions.

The ability to shape public policy has been a hallmark of the committee since it was formed in 1983. Its report, denouncing a "zeal to procreate" among some segments of society, warned that current advances in genetics could be exploited in eugenics. The moratorium, which covers researchers in all federal facilities, is meant to allow time for more permanent guidelines to be drawn up. It applies to any work that is meant to alter the genes, chromosomes or sex of embryos in vitro.

The Comité Consultatif National d'Ethique pour les Sciences de la Vie et de la Santé (National Advisory Commission on Ethics in the Life and Health Sciences) was created by President...

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