ART in France: ethics committee backs fertility treatment in single and lesbian women

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Published 11 October 2018

A national committee on bioethics has concluded ahead of legislation changes next year that treatment should be available 'to all women' and not just to heterosexuals with a diagnosis of infertility.

An 'opinion' from France's national consultative committee on ethics (CCNE) has concluded that fertility treatment in the form of ART should be available to all women, including lesbian and singles.(1) The recommendation, in a wide-ranging statement covering embryo research and genomics, comes ahead of updates to ART legislation due in France in 2019.

Currently, ART in France is generously covered by state insurance, but only for couples in established relationships and with a professional diagnosis of infertility. Thus, the lesbian and single women seeking fertility treatment have had to look overseas for treatment, with the path to London and Brussels well trodden.

French legislation in ART was last updated in 2011 and since then, says CCNE, there have been changes in 'science. medicine, society and law'. Moreover, the committee makes it clear that the decision was not reached unanimously and that concerns for the child growing up 'in the absence of a father' proved a matter of great debate - as did the anonymity of the donor and the 'commercialisation' of human tissue and cells.

Elsewhere in the opinion, CCNE looked 'favourably' on the opportunity for women to cryopreserve oocytes electively - as a 'precaution' - and to the lifting of anonymity for sperm donors.

In 2016 the French newspaper Le Monde published an open letter from 130 of the country's leading IVF physicians calling for a relaxation in France's IVF legislation and the creation of a national 'plan contre l'infirtilite'. The letter highlighted four treatments which are currently outlawed in France, including egg donation, elective egg freezing, and sperm donation for all women irrespective of their relationship status. Each of these treatments, said the letter's signatories, reflected legal anomalies and inconsistencies within the French system, which the latest CCNE opinion would now appear to address.

However, no-one in France is holding their breath. In its response and looking ahead to any legal changes, the Elysée Palace said the CCNE report should not 'prejudge' any decisions. Parliament still has 'a phase of discussion' to complete, and debate cannot be expected before the first term of 2019.

1. See http://www.ccne-ethique.fr/sites/default/files/ccne_avis_129_resume.pdf