Bishops urge French Catholics to pray and fast as bioethics bill returns to Senate

1280px_Drapeaux_franais.jpg French flags. Public domain.

French bishops asked Catholics on Wednesday to pray and fast for the next four Fridays for respect for human life from conception in response to new legislation.

With France's controversial bioethics bill returning to the Senate for a second round of debate this month, the French bishops' conference launched a prayer campaign on Jan. 13 in light of the "widespread blindness to the dignity of every human being" in French society.

The bishops of France called on "all Catholics, as well as men and women of goodwill, to turn to God by praying and fasting to ask Him for the grace to open our eyes to all and to be artisans of respect for all human beings from their conception." 

"With a peaceful, but relentless heart, Catholics wish to help our French society to be a society of love and hope in truth and respect for human dignity, otherwise the fraternity advocated in our republican motto would be an illusion," they said, referring to the national motto, "Liberté, égalité, fraternité."

The prayer campaign will begin on Jan. 15. Catholics are asked to pray and fast in their homes each Friday until Feb. 5.

The bishops published a supplemental prayer guide with meditations from Scripture and specific intentions for each day.

They have also released a podcast, "Église et bioéthique," focused on the Church and bioethical issues in France. Episode topics range from euthanasia to artificial intelligence.

The French Senate is resuming its consideration of the bioethics bill after a six-month hiatus. The bill would fund medically assisted procreation for lesbian couples and single women. Currently in France, IVF is restricted to married or cohabiting men and women with a diagnosis of infertility.

Health Minister Olivier Véran addressed the senate's special commission charged with studying the bill's text on Jan. 13. He welcomed the legislation as "a bill that will bring new rights," according to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. The special commission will meet again next week to review tabled amendments.

The bill was originally adopted by the National Assembly in October 2019. At the first reading, more than 2,500 amendments were tabled. The Senate also adopted the text in early 2020 but amended it in February.

In July, the National Assembly voted to include some amendments which had been previously rejected, including authorization of the ROPA method, also called "shared motherhood."

ROPA, which stands for Reception of Oocytes from Partner, is a method of in vitro fertilization that places the embryo fertilized with the egg of one woman inside the uterus of the woman's female partner for gestation.

Also reintroduced in the Senate bill was a provision on so-called "savior siblings" -- embryos created via in vitro fertilization for the use of the stem cells in their umbilical blood to treat a sick older sibling.

The creation of "savior siblings" was permitted under a previous bioethics law in 2004, but the National Assembly voted in October to discontinue its use in in vitro fertilization in France.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit, who practiced medicine and taught bioethics at a medical school before entering the priesthood, has raised concerns that human embryos are being trivialized and "discarded like vulgar consumable products."

"It is indeed consumer society that pushes the desire of adults again and again without any consideration of the consequences on future generations, to the point of doing violence to them," the archbishop of Paris wrote in Le Figaro June 29.

"Is there not violence, indeed, when a child is deliberately deprived of a father, when selective abortions are arranged in the case of multiple pregnancies, when the child discovers that the embryo it was might just as well have ended up under a researcher's microscope or in a landfill after a more or less lengthy period of freezing? Is the child subject to the omnipotence of the 'parental plan' still our equal?" he asked.

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