France's 1994 ban on human embryo research should be lifted, according to the Conseil d'Etat, one of the three arms of the country's supreme court. Its aim is to allow scientists to pursue the therapeutic promise of human embryonic stem cells.
The recommendation is one of the main conclusions of a report adopted last week by the body's assembly general. Lionel Jospin, the prime minister, commissioned the report in preparation for a parliamentary debate next year that will lead to a revision of France's bioethics legislation.
The legislation was designed so that it could be updated in response to scientific progress and shifts in moral attitudes. The report recommends that embryo research be allowed for stem-cell research under strict conditions.
Research would only be allowed on surplus embryos. There are 30,000 of these in cold storage in France, left over from in vitro fertilization by parents who do not wish to have them implanted. Implantation of experimental embryos to produce children would be banned.
The report also recommends allowing embryo research aimed at improving reproductive medicine. It proposes the creation of a body, akin to the UK Human Fertilization and Embryo Authority, that would approve research protocols on a case-by-case basis.
The original bioethics laws were adopted under a conservative government, dominated by Roman Catholic ideas. But the national assembly now has a Socialist majority, with a traditionally more liberal stance on embryo research.