No Room on the Lifeboat? | Michael J. Miller | News from Europe, Catholic World Report
Proposed changes to French bioethics laws target Down syndrome children.This spring the French parliament is scheduled to debate a bill proposing revisions to the national bioethics laws currently in force. In January 2010 the pertinent legislative commission published its report, which addresses questions about surrogate motherhood, assisted reproduction, human embryo research, pre-natal screening, and organ donation. The report relies heavily on recommendations issued on November 17, 2009 by the French national ethics committee, the Comité Consultatif National d’Éthique (CCNE).
Pre-implantation diagnostic testing, although controversial, was allowed in strictly defined cases by the 1994 bioethics law. A couple with a family history of a “particularly serious” genetic disease was legally permitted to have their embryonic offspring (produced through in vitro fertilization) screened for that one disease; any embryos in which the genetic disorder was detected would be “discarded,” so as to implant only disease-free embryos in the mother. The CCNE recently recommended extending pre-implantation screening to include trisomy 21, also known as Down syndrome.
The press conference held by the CCNE on November 17, 2009 revealed that the French national ethics committee did not approve Recommendation #107 unanimously. Xavier Lacroix stated his opinion that “although we are not talking about the collective and coercive eugenics seen in recent history in some totalitarian regimes,” there is still “a liberal and individual eugenics movement that can lead to the same results as a collective policy.” The CCNE, he said, obviously based its proposal “on a pragmatic and utilitarian argument…but in ethical thinking the utilitarian bottom line shouldn’t always have the last word.” Another committee member, philosopher Pierre Le Coz, replied, “We don’t think that we are involved in eugenics…. As long as couples have freedom and there is no incitement by the state, there is no eugenics.” The proposed selection among human beings, he continued, has a “praiseworthy” motivation. “We spare people suffering…. This frees families from the burden of a calamity.”
Ironically, the CCNE recommended screening embryos for trisomy 21 just 50 years after the discovery of this chromosomal disorder by Dr. Jérôme Lejeune (1926-1994), a French geneticist and pediatrician who devoted his medical career to treating children with Down syndrome and did much to remove the stigma formerly attached to the condition. Then, on November 18, 2009, Dr. Ahmad Salehi of Stanford University announced a spectacular breakthrough in his study of the neural basis for the memory deficit that causes cognitive delay in children with trisomy 21. His research team showed that increased norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter) greatly improves cognition in genetically engineered trisomic mice. Salehi expects that his findings can lead to a drug therapy to compensate for the memory deficiency in human patients. “If you intervene early enough, you will be able to help kids with Down syndrome to collect and modulate information.”
Read the entire article...