The New York Times has condemned France's Catholic bishops for defending the sanctity of human life at the embryonic stage. The Times has called the bishops' statement "an attack" that "comes close to a declaration of war."
For twenty years, the French Muscular Dystrophy Association has run an annual fundraising telethon but this year the French Catholic hierarchy has spoken out against the Association's support for using embryos in research. Last year, the popular telethon raised $138 million for research.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, told journalists on Tuesday, "For us, these embryos are not things, but human beings. And from the depths of our faith, we cannot accept that they are selected, destroyed, the objects of experiments."
Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon said in a statement on the diocese website, "We can promote donations to campaigns only if they offer all necessary ethical guarantees on the experiment that they support."
The Fréjus-Toulon website also carried a message from Pierre-Olivier Arduin, a member of the commission for bioethics that said, "It is no longer possible to participate in the telethon. Christians cannot cooperate with evil."
Government officials of the officially secular state responded, "It's not up to the Church to put any pressure on families who have recourse to genetic diagnoses, and even less to make the totality of donors feel guilty."
The Times quoted Bernard Barataud, the president of the Généthon laboratory, who accused the Church of "having mobilized its extreme troops to kindle the controversy and do the dirty work."
Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of France's Protestant Federation, supported the telethon saying, "Without any intent of parenthood, we don't consider an embryo a full-fledged human being."
Cardinal Ricard, president of the French Conference said that though the issue of the embryos killed in research is "frightening." "The Catholic Church does not call for a boycott of the Telethon. In the fight against this disease, I think initially of the patients, their families, the doctors and the researchers."
The controversy elicited a partial retreat by the bishops' conference that released a statement Thursday saying they did not intend to imply that the telethon ought to be boycotted.
"French bishops who have spoken about the telethon have all praised this work of generosity and solidarity," the statement said.
Cardinal Ricard pointed out that the Muscular Dystrophy Association earmarked less than 2% of the funds raised to embryo research.
French bioethics committees and experts place heavy emphasis on what is called the "project of parenthood" when deciding on the moral status of the embryo. Once the parental or "family project" is complete, that is, once the couple has as many children as they want, the IVF embryos that may remain in storage are regarded as having no legal or moral status.