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Ethics

France considers extending medically assisted procreation to lesbian couples, single women

A sign during Paris Gay Pride 2019 calling for medically assisted procreation for all. PMA is an issue that has galvanised the LGBT community.
A sign during Paris Gay Pride 2019 calling for medically assisted procreation for all. PMA is an issue that has galvanised the LGBT community. Charles Platiau/Reuters

The French ministers for health, justice and research are to present on Wednesday the government’s proposed bioethics legislation, which includes provisions for extending medically assisted fertility techniques to all women, including lesbian couples and single women.

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New bioethics laws must be passed every seven years, and this one will include measures dealing with organ transplants and genetics. But the most controversial aspect of it is PMA, or medically assisted procreation, to all women.

Legalising PMA for all women was one of President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign promises, and it has been a rallying cry for the LGBT community looking for equal access to fertility treatments. But it has been put off several times to avoid a political backlash while the government was trying to pass other legislation.

Before preparing the bill, the government sought out the consent from the National consultative ethics committee, after a public debate on the issue in 2018.

What’s in the legislation?

  • Extending PMA to all women

The proposed bill would allow all women, not just heterosexual women with fertility problems, to access medically assisted fertility techniques, which include sperm donation and in vitro fertilisation, or IVF.

About 150,000 women went through some kind of medically assisted procreation technique in 2016. By extending PMA to single women and lesbian couples, health minister Agnes Buzyn estimates it will add 2,000 cases per year.

  • Access to information

The legislation would allow children conceived through PMA to access information about their sperm donor once they turn 18. This would be either non-identifying information like age and physical characteristics, or the identity of the person, if he had approved of being identified at the time of the donation.

  • Family ties

In order to establish their parental rights over children conceived with a sperm donor, heterosexual couples produce a legal document ahead of the procedure, and they are listed as parents on the birth certificate after the child is born.

In the bill, same-sex parents would have to produce the same document, and that will be noted in the child’s full birth certificate, which will list the two mothers. That certificate is only accessible by the child and his or her parents; a simplified version, for public use, will not include the reference to the birth origin.

  • No surrogacy

The bill will specifically prohibit surrogacy, which opponents to PMA have argued is the next step in allowing medically assisted fertility treatments.

  • Embryo freezing

Another aspect of the legislation would allow women to freeze embryos to conceive a child later in life. Currently, embryo freezing is only allowed for medical reasons, such as women undergoing radiation treatments for cancer.

The bill will specify an age, maybe 35 years old, after which the embryos can be frozen, and the procedure would be reimbursed by the social security system, though the conservation would not be covered.

  • Stem cell research

Stem cell and embryo research are currently illegal in France, except for specific cases for which researchers must ask for exemptions.

The proposed bioethics bill would loosen the criteria for the exemptions for embryonic stem cell research.

Freedom to vote

The legislation will go for debate in September, and will unlikely go up for a vote before the first trimester of 2020.

The opposition Les Republicains have indicated that their lawmakers will have free reign to vote as they wish, as has the ruling LaRem party.

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