The National Ethics Commission is thirty years old and yet it has never been as prolific and as much in the media as it has been since Covid-19. We take a look at an advisory body that has undergone its share of changes and is assuming its role as an advisor to the government – but not as a guarantor.
January 2022 was an epiphany – a revelation – for the National Ethics Commission (CNE). It was probably the first time that its chairwoman, Julie-Suzanne Bausch, had toured the country's major media. The reason for this unprecedented media hype was the "CNE's response to the briefing note for the consultation debate on the advisability of compulsory vaccination in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic" – and the incisive tone that the 15 members of the CNE did not hesitate to adopt. "The CNE regrets the extremely short deadlines given to the consulted bodies to contribute to a debate of this importance", it said, while it had only five days to react to the note from the committee of medical experts commissioned by the government. Other advisory bodies such as the Consultative Commission on Human Rights were not able to meet these deadlines. A waste of time. "The government has intended to exclude compulsory vaccination until now, when this debate could usefully have started as early as the summer of 2021", the CNE added.
After a 5.5 hour debate in the Chamber of Deputies on January 22, the government finally opted for compulsory vaccination for the over 50s and the health sector. The CNE, for its part, argued for compulsory vaccination for all adult residents and border residents, on the grounds of "inter-generational solidarity" but above all "the right to health and life for all". But paradoxically, the fact that the government favoured the opinion of medical experts over the CNE’s opinion did not discredit it, on the contrary: It had never been so quoted or invited to express itself. "We made it clear to the government that we were not its guarantor", says Jean-Jacques Schonckert, a lawyer at the Court and member of the CNE. "Our argument was widely taken up by politicians as well as by the AMMD (doctors' association, ed.) and all the unions except the LCGB", Bausch says.
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