By Hilary White

BAYONNE, France, May 14, 2009 ( – The Catholic bishop of Bayonne has warned that the French government is promoting a form of “barbarism” in recommending the legalization of embryo research.

Bishop Marc Aillet, head of the diocese of Bayonne, Lescar and Oloron, said in a media release that promoting embryo research is the “temptation for man to set himself up as the master of life over his fellow men.”

The bishop released the remarks to coincide with the current Estates General on bioethics – a forum for debate on issues such as embryonic stem cell research and cloning that will present its findings to the French Parliament. The findings will then be used to help with deliberations on the 2004 law on bioethics, which is scheduled for reconsideration.

The Council of State, however, an organ of the government that provides the executive branch with legal advice, has already released its opinion that embryo research should be allowed but opposes legalising “surrogate motherhood.”

In response, the bishop said, “How can we not discern behind this zealous focus on the embryo a violence committed against every human being and definitively against God?”

The bishop also said that the recommendation of the Council of State to allow embryo research overrides the “active phase of reflection destined to lead to a dispassionate debate.”

“If one of the highest authorities in the Republic takes a stance even before the Estates General announced by the government have concluded, isn’t there a risk of confusing the democratic debate?” said Bishop Aillet. 

“Were we not all embryos once?” The state has a responsibility to promote the “principle of dignity” as the “only means to guarantee equality in society,” he said.

If human dignity, he said, is “reduced to his size or his state of development,” others who are no longer embryos, but who “do not correspond to those models in vogue would have reason to worry.”

Referring to the practice of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to eradicate “imperfect” embryos, the bishop said, “And those who have escaped the ‘selective triage,’ should they apologize for existing?”

Bishop Aillet also asked why the political and scientific community has continued to call for embryo research, given the success of adult and umbilical cord blood stem cell research, which present few ethical problems.