French parliament bans human cloning

The French parliament adopted a bioethics law early, banning human cloning as a "crime against the human species" but allowing embryo research to continue, after the result of three years of haggling was finally passed by a vote in the Senate upper house.

The new law "allows the introduction of a text which seeks to find a path between the hopes of some and the fears of others," Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said of the measures which at the same time seek to boost organ donation.

To a background of ethical questions -- raised by the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997, the announcement by the Raelian sect in 2002 that it had succeeded in producing a cloned baby, and the work of South Korean researchers who earlier this year succeeded in cloning human embryos for stem cell use -- successive parliaments and governments have sought a legislative response.

The text of the French law was dramatically different from when it was first introduced by the Socialist government of Lionel Jospin and read for the first time in parliament in January 2002.

For the left, the finished product is seen as a huge compromise over its original plan for a more far-reaching bioethics package, while the rights sees an acceptable balance in the revised law changes.

One point of agreement is that cloning aimed at reproducing human beings should be banned. To that end a new offence of "crime against the human species" is created.

"Therapeutic" cloning -- creating stem cells to replace damaged organs and tissue to help with diseases such as Alzheimer-- is also banned, although the health minister said he would maintain an open mind. A biomedicine agency, created under the new law, will be tasked with producing a report on the issue.

A ban on the use of "spare" embryos created for the purpose of in-vitro fertilisation will be postponed for five years to allow for evaluation of the ethical and medical ramifications.

The text also expands the list of people who can donate organs while still alive and allows for the harvesting of organs from a dead person who "did not make known while alive their objection" to such a procedure.