The French Parliament has voted to maintain current restrictions on human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research.
As part of a review of the country's bioethics regulations, the National Assembly voted 73 to 33 to maintain the status quo. The bill is now due to go before the Senate – for a second time – in June.
At the initial reading of the bill in February, the National Assembly supported the Government's more conservative, existing stance. But, in April, the Senate amended the bill to allow hESC research to be authorised in cases monitored by the National Biomedicine Agency.
While hESC research is banned in France, a 2004 amendment to the law governing science in this area allows researchers to obtain dispensation to undertake research that could lead to 'major therapeutic progress' for serious diseases without successful treatment.
Currently, research is only permitted using 'spare' embryos left over from IVF and on cell lines imported from other countries, created in the same conditions. Creating embryos for research purposes is prohibited. The Senate's amendments, rejected by the National Assembly, would have removed the need for special dispensation under the existing law.
Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, head of the Catholic Church in France, said any liberalisation of the law would pave the way for 'state-sponsored eugenics'. However, many scientists are calling for the ban to be overturned, so that the need for special permission is dispensed with.
Dr Marc Peschanski, Director of I-STEM, a stem cell research organisation responsible for coordinating France's biomedical research, said the compromise reached in 2004 allowed scientists to continue conducting research, albeit under restrictions. But, he added, it left uncertainty over the regulatory status of hESCs in France, which is acting as a deterrent to foreign investment.