Proposed changes to a long-standing French law designed to combat sectarian abuses, such as female genital mutilation and terrorist attacks, is being used as a tool by the French government to attack the practice and promotion of unconventional forms of medicine. If specific amendments are approved by the French Parliament next week, the revised law will criminalise any individual or organisation avoiding, criticising or encouraging others to avoid, mainstream medical practices or health policies, assuming such avoidance can be claimed by authorities to do harm.
Prosecutions under the proposed new law would result in jail sentences of between 1 and 3 years, and fines of between 15,000 and 45,000 euros.
What is the legal tactic?
The bill containing the amendments was tabled less than a month ago on 15 November and will go to discussion and vote in the French Parliament next Tuesday, on 19 December.
The proposed amendment to French law (No. 111 [2023-2034]) represents probably the most blatant legal attack on the practice of alternative and natural medicine anywhere in the world.
The Senate (Sénat), the upper house of the French parliament, makes no bones about the reasons why Macron’s government justified its proposal. On its website, it claims the driver has been “the health crisis and anti-vaccination movement against Covid as well as the use of social networks” critical of mainstream health policy.
The Explanatory Memorandum for the amendments asserts, “The health crisis provided an ideal breeding ground for these new sectarian excesses. New forms of “gurus” or self-proclaimed thought leaders act online, taking advantage of the vitality of social networks to unite real communities around them".
France’s Marianne magazine wrote in November 2022 that the government agency overseeing sectarian deviances saw a 34% increase in sectarian deviances in 2021, compared with 2020, and many of these were related to “well-being charlatans [and] pseudo-therapists”.
Citizenship minister Marlène Schiappa told FranceInfo in December 2021, that 500 groups or organisations have been identified that “could pose a danger to society”, these being headed by “new gurus who are using the pandemic to preach practices of 'well-being', but are really practising "psychological subjugation and efforts to take money and goods".
“Provocation to abandon or refrain from following a therapeutic or prophylactic medical treatment is punishable by one year's imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 euros, when such abandonment or abstention is presented as beneficial to the health of the persons concerned when, given the state of medical knowledge, it is clearly likely to have serious consequences for their physical or mental health, given the pathology from which they suffer.
"The same penalties apply to incitement to adopt practices presented as having a therapeutic or prophylactic purpose for the persons concerned, when it is clear, in the light of medical knowledge, that these practices expose them to an immediate risk of death or injury likely to result in permanent mutilation or disability.
"When the provocation provided for in the first two paragraphs has been followed by action, the penalties are increased to three years' imprisonment and a fine of 45,000 euros.
"When these offences are committed via the written word or through audiovisual media, the specific provisions of the laws governing these subjects apply to the determination of the persons responsible."
Opposition to the revised law
Fortunately, not everyone in France is taking this overt attack on alternative and natural medicine and insult to freedom of expression — the very thing the law originally set out to protect — lying down.
“This law would make it possible to violently suppress what little freedom of expression remains in our beautiful, battered country. This would be a crime against science which can only progress through debate of ideas….This law would establish a de facto obligation to receive pharmaceutical substances, even experimental ones, against one’s will….This would be a violation of international conventions.” - Christian Perronne MD PhD
The French concept of sectarian drift
The law in question, No 111 of the French Penal Code, aims to curb sectarian aberrations and related psychological and physical abuses and was passed originally in 1901. While much of the world is acutely aware of the divisions, violence and abuses that can result from sectarianism, the French have developed this sophisticated legal instrument that, since 2002, has been overseen by the Interministerial Mission for Vigilance and the Fight against Sectarian Aberrations (Miviludes). Miviludes defines sectarian aberrations as any "deviation of freedom of thought, opinion or religion which undermines fundamental rights, security or personal integrity, public order, laws or regulations. It is characterised by the implementation, by an organized group or by an isolated individual, whatever its nature or activity, of pressures or techniques aimed at creating, maintaining or exploiting in a person a state psychological or physical subjection, depriving him of a part of his free will, with harmful consequences for this person, his entourage or for society".
But here’s the rub: there no legal definition of a sect or a cult. However, the behaviour, communications or actions of any individual or organisation could fall under the anti-cult law with criminal consequences. That includes the illegal practice of medicine, acts of fraud or breaches of trust — all of which might be applied to an individual or health practitioner that doesn’t toe the line of conventional medicine.
French former presidential candidate, current member of parliament (lower house: National Assembly) and president of the Debout la France party, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, announced in a 42 minute video on the subject that, if the law is passed, “medical freedom in France is finished” and it will “call into question” the Hippocratic Oath. The video, released 2 weeks ago, has so far drawn over 1200 comments, the vast majority supportive of Dupont-Aignan’s critical stance of Macron’s authoritarian government on this issue.
You will find a 6-minute excerpt from the video below, in which we have included English subtitles.
Senator Alain Houpert has proposed the deletion of Article 4, an amendment that will go to vote on 19 December. Any French Parliamentarian who has even the slightest awareness of how this anti-cult bill has been twisted from its original objectives to curb human rights violations to ones which attack natural and alternative medicine must support the deletion of article 4.
WHO’s in on the action?
With Macron’s government having taken a very pro-narrative stance during the covid pandemic, despite it having one of the highest covid case rates in the world, along with Israel (see Figure below), both countries having had very high covid vaccination rates, it is unsurprising, yet deeply unnerving, that Macron's government has planned such an authoritarian approach to medical choices.
Figure. Daily new confirmed covid-19 cases per million people. Source: Our World in Data. Note: the apparent lack of recent cases is an illusion caused by the very low rate of antigen testing that has been ongoing since the WHO declared the end of the pandemic in May 2023. The most recent increases are associated with recent increases in highly transmissable, immune escape variant Omicron JN.1.
The French law meshes perfectly with the proposed amendment of the International Health regulations and associated ‘pandemic treaty’, due for voting at the 77th World Health Assembly meeting next May. Together, these proposals will cede control over “public health emergencies”, and responses to threats of such emergencies, from individual nations to an unelected, non-governmental organisation in the form of the WHO. We’ve written about this potential travesty to national and individual sovereignty, and the abandonment of proportionate and democratic regional or localised responses extensively, including here, here and here.
What can we do to stop it?
Public outcry by the French people, and international pressure on the French government and the parliament, are the only mechanisms left to stop the dire infringements on human rights that are contained within the specific amendments to France's anti-cult law, Article 4 being the amendment that most specifically targets alternative medicine and natural health.
The people of France, and anyone who knows anyone in France, need to immediately contact their member of parliament and ask them to support Alain Houpert’s amendment to delete Article 4.
>>> Find your MP via the French National Assembly here.
We will provide an update next week to report on the outcome of the discussion and vote in the French parliament.
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As negotiations over the International Health Regulations and ‘pandemic treaty’ reach fever pitch, ANH’s Rob Verkerk takes a sombre look at why the plan is so controversial, why it transgresses medical ethics principles and fundamental rights, and why its detractors get labelled conspiracy theorists