Tuesday November 28 5:23 PM ET
PARIS (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said Tuesday his government was drawing up legislation to allow research on human embryos to help correct genetic birth defects and fight diseases.
Jospin told a bioethics conference the bill would permit the taking of stem cells--master cells that can generate most of the 200 cell types in the human body--from embryos and their transfer to patients suffering from incurable illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, diabetes or coronary disease.
The procedure would be authorized only on embryos between seven and 12 days old that were no longer destined for in-vitro reproduction.
"Thanks to these cells, diseases that are incurable today may have a treatment tomorrow. Crippled children will finally be able to walk, broken men and women will at last be able to stand," Jospin told the conference in Paris.
Some people had ethical objections, he said, but there were huge potential benefits from embryo research and strict clauses in the law would prevent it from being used for eugenic purposes.
One of those clauses provides for the creation of an 18-member panel to authorize such research projects.
The legislation is likely to trigger protests by pro-life groups and fuel debate on how far scientists should go in interfering with nature.
"Should philosophical, spiritual or religious motives make us deprive society and the ill of the possibility of advances in treatment?" he asked.
However, Jospin emphasized that reproductive human cloning would remain "strictly forbidden."
If the draft becomes law, an embryo fertilized in-vitro could be transferred to a woman's uterus up to one year after the death of the husband, as long as he consented while alive.
Some restrictions on organ transplants would also be lifted.
The bill is due to be submitted to Parliament next March after being
reviewed by the national ethics committee and the national human rights