On August 2, 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron signed into law a bill on bioethics that, among other measures, will open access to medically assisted reproductive technology to lesbian couples and single women.
Medically Assisted Reproduction
Before the adoption of the new bioethics law, medically assisted reproduction was available only to couples made up of a “man and a woman” who were either experiencing fertility problems or wanted to avoid transmitting a serious illness to their child. By contrast, article 1 of the new law amended article 2141-2 of the French Public Health Code to make medically assisted reproduction available to “any couple formed by a man and a woman or two women, or any single woman.” The requirements that the candidates for medically assisted reproduction either be experiencing fertility problems or be at risk of transmitting a serious illness to their child has been lifted, and candidates must now only go through an interview with members of a pluridisciplinary medical team that includes a mental health professional. Couples formed by two men still do not have access to medically assisted reproduction in France, as that would necessarily involve gestational surrogacy, a practice that is illegal under article 16-7 of the Civil Code.
The new law also gives individuals born from medically assisted reproduction a right to access, after their 18th birthday, information about their origins, such as the identity of the donor used, or nonidentifying information, such as the donor’s age and physical characteristics. In the future, all sperm or egg donors will have to consent to the potential sharing of this information with the future children born from their donation. An amendment was adopted to deal with the situation of children conceived before the law’s entry into force: after their 18th birthday, they will be able to submit a request to a new agency that will contact the donor and ask if they consent to their personal information being shared with the requester.
Prior law allowed women to freeze their oocytes, but men could freeze their sperm only for medical reasons. The new law also allows both men and women to freeze their gametes without a medical reason. The cost of collecting gametes is to be borne by France’s public health insurance system, but not the cost of preservation. To prevent employers from pressuring employees — particularly women — from putting off having children, employers are forbidden from offering to pay for the cost of preserving their employees’ gametes.
A decree of September 28, 2021, establishes age limits for both medically assisted reproduction and for the freezing of gametes.
Surrogacy remains illegal in France, but French courts have been divided on how to deal with the issue of parents who go abroad to conceive children through surrogacy. To solve this issue, the new law on bioethics provides that only the child’s biological parent is to be recognized as a birth parent when the foreign records are transcribed into French vital records. The other parent now must go through an adoption procedure to be recognized as co-parent under French law.
The new law on bioethics contains a number of other measures related to health care and research, including the following:
- Organ donation is made easier, and bone marrow donations from a minor to a parent are now allowed.
- Family members may now have access to the results of genetic tests performed on patients who are deceased or no longer able to express their will.
- Patients who undergo genetic testing may now be informed, so long as they consent, if genetic characteristics are discovered outside of the scope for which the test was performed.
- Patients must now be informed when artificial intelligence is used for their care.
- The legal framework for research on stem cells is strengthened, and the new law reaffirms the prohibition of certain practices such as the adjunction of animal cells in a human embryo, the creation of embryos for research purposes, or the cloning of embryos with the intent of re-implanting them.