France: A Focus on the New Reproduction

By Cobbaut, Jean-Philippe; Malherbe, Jean-Francois | The Hastings Center Report, July-August 1989 | Go to article overview

France: A Focus on the New Reproduction


Cobbaut, Jean-Philippe, Malherbe, Jean-Francois, The Hastings Center Report


France: A Focus on the New Reproduction

European bioethical discussion in 1987-1988 was centered on new procreation techniques such as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. Father Patrick Verspieren, in his compilation of the principal texts of the Catholic Magisterium Biology, Medicine, and Ethics[1] renders an account of Catholic writings from the declarations of Pius XII to the recent Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on "Respect for Human Life and the Dignity of Procreation" and the development of thought on these matters within the Catholic Church.

The Instruction has been much commented upon in Christian and non-Christian circles. It has afforded various European research centers the opportunity to place (or to place again) on their agenda the status of the human embryo. On May 15 and 16, 1987, for example, the Catholic Institute of Lyons organized a research conference on this question, the proceedings of which were published as The Status of the Human Embryo.[2]

In Master of Life[3] the late Professor Charles Lefevre of Lille University reaffirms the principle that moral law must be grounded in human experience and dignity. The Instruction is to be welcomed in the measure it addresses the situations faced by those for whom it speaks.

The same attention to concrete situations and persons enlivens the reflections of a one-day study session organized in May 1988 by the Brussels Bioethical Study Center. The conference proceedings, "Ethics and Techniques of In Vitro Fertilization,"[4] explore the hypothesis that technically assisted procreation, if governed by strict rules of respect for the human person, can in fact help to strengthen, rather than weaken the bonds between sexuality and procreation.

The possible positive use of these methods, however, should not lead us to a naive triumphalism regarding them. Jurists' reflections on the possible perverse effects of using such techniques carry us from ethics into the domain of law. Jean-Louis Baudouin and Catherine Labrusse-Riou, for example, demonstrate in Creating Man: By What Right?[5] the necessity of reciprocally questioning the progress of biomedical science and the juridical tradition that upholds direct consanguinial descent as a law-framed relationship.

That perverse tendency to give priority to technique over ethics or law is endemic in technical-scientific development. Co-authors of Mankind, Nature and Law[6] Labrusse-Riou and colleagues seek to show how mankind and nature, each the object of technological manipulation and therefore of law in a commercial society, can and must also be subjects of law. Another collaborative work brings together the contributions of Gilbert Hottois, Jacques De Vooght, Ramond Rasmont, and Paulette Van Gansen at Brussels University who considered the ethical stakes involved in their interdisciplinary research on philosophy, sciences, and applied biology. Science and Ethics[7] is primarily an analysis of the social impact of scientific development.

Western philosophical tradition requires such analyses to be supported by more basic, systematic reflections on ethics in general and medical ethics in particular, yet such syntheses are rare. Nevertheless, several attempts at systematization have been made recently. Medical Ethics[8] by Claire Ambroselli traces the history of medical ethics as it was shaped by the Nuremberg code. Through that story she examines the difficulties we now experience as we confront the growing power of medicine and biology with a moral philosophy the contents of which are in crisis.[9]

Jean-Francois Malherbe's Toward an Ethics of Medicine[10] places the doctor-patient relationship at the center of the ethics of medicine. …

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