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Kinsley vs. Douthat on Stem Cells

March 19, 2009

Kinsley fires:

“If I felt you were serious, we would have a quandary as well. But there’s no quandary because you’re not serious. Your actions are too different from your words. You are doing absolutely nothing about the millions of fertilized eggs that are destroyed naturally every year (in miscarriages so early that the potential mother is not even aware of them), or the thousands that are produced and unused by fertility clinics going about their normal work (which are either discarded or pointlessly frozen in the hope of some miraculous ethical breakthrough).”

Douthat responds:

“Pro-lifers are often damned for being uncompromising zealots; here Kinsley is taking a case where the pro-life movement pretty clearly hasgone in for compromise – drawing the line at having their tax dollars used for embryo-killing, rather than trying to get the practice banned outright – and damning them for being morally unserious. Heads he wins, tails we lose, I guess. ..As should be clear from other examples, at home and abroad, most pro-lifers would like to heavily regulate fertility clinics, and would support efforts to give every embryo a chance at life. (I will pass over his line about miscarriages, which seems to imply that a “serious” pro-life movement would be trying to pass laws against accidental deaths.) But that’s not where the national debate is at the moment, to put it mildly, so instead pro-lifers have done what you’re supposed to do in a democracy, which is to meet the general public where they are. This doesn’t make them insincere; it makes them sensible. “

Now, Douthat says much that is sensible, and I especially appreciate his on-the-mark response to the idiotic comment about miscarriages (I fail to understand why people think this constitutes an argument). But he doesn’t fully address Kinsley’s main point, which is that there is an inconsistency between those who oppose ESCR but who are content to leave the IVF clinic more or less alone, even if they might personally disagree with the act. If this sounds familiar, it is. While pro-lifers might differ on strategy, very few would argue that what really matters is public funding of abortion and that the government turning a blind eye to private abortion is fine. Focusing on ESCR while ignoring the IVF clinics is tantamount to the same thing. Don’t get me wrong: I fully realize that the use of public funds steps everything up a notch and that the discarding of human life in the service of a cold and calculating consequentialism is particularly odious, but I am still surprised by how little attention is devoted to what goes on inside these clinics.

If I were to hazard a guess, it would be that there is a general reluctance to interfere in the so-called “private” decisions of middle class life. That is why we hear so little about divorce, about adultery, about contraception, and about attempts to “improve” fertility. After all, in many circles, having a child is seen as an individual right, to be coveted as yet another possession that goes with the big house and the SUV. Is the reluctance to denounce IVF as the evil it is a matter of culture?

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51 Comments
  1. March 19, 2009 12:04 pm

    Well, it’s obviously a matter of culture; the question is why our culture is that way. I think there are several reasons. The first as Douthat says, is that the pro-life movement has to start somewhere, and it hardly makes sense to focus your efforts in a democracy on the area where your least likely to have any success.

    The second is that infertility is a very painful experience, and so denouncing IVF usually has to be done with more sensitivity (if equal firmness). A third is that IVF is the widely accepted status quo, while federal funding for ESCR on the scale Obama authorized is a departure from the previous status quo (although it enjoys majority support).

    One is more likely to be successful trying to preserve the existing status quo than attacking it (particularly on a sensitive issue like in vitro fertilization). I think Douthat rightly points out that Kinsley is being dishonest here; first, the pro-lifers are idealogues, and then the second they focus their efforts on one policy rather than the other, he denounces them for being inconsistent.

  2. March 19, 2009 12:12 pm

    John,

    I understand these points, but I can’t help thinking of the parallels with abortion.

    (1) “it hardly makes sense to focus your efforts in a democracy on the area where your least likely to have any success.” Many say the same about the fight for legal restrictions on abortion.

    (2) “infertility is a very painful experience, and so denouncing IVF usually has to be done with more sensitivity”. Sure, but the circumstances that lead women to choose abortion (especially since it is so related to poverty) are probably more painful.

    (3) “IVF is the widely accepted status quo” I could say the same about abortion.

    As I said, do not interpret my argument as giving any support to Kinsley’s position.

  3. March 19, 2009 12:18 pm

    Excellent post, MM. Well said. I could not agree more.

  4. March 19, 2009 12:33 pm

    I broadly agree that most of the same arguments apply, but I’ll push back a little bit:

    (1) “it hardly makes sense to focus your efforts in a democracy on the area where your least likely to have any success.” Many say the same about the fight for legal restrictions on abortion….(3) “IVF is the widely accepted status quo” I could say the same about abortion.

    Many say that, but if you look at the polling data, it’s not quite accurate. The partial-birth abortion ban was quite popular, and most Americans would support restrictions on abortion after the first trimester (and more restrictions depending on the state). Granted, that’s less than ideal, but with over 100,000 abortions taking place in the second and third trimesters every year, those type of restrictions are worth pursuing (provided Americans ever have a chance to decide these issues through a more democratic process). By contrast, there is not anything close to majority support for banning IVF procedures.

  5. March 19, 2009 1:32 pm

    MM,

    Aren’t you among those who contend that it doesn’t make sense to focus on legal restrictions on abortion because of its legal impossibility?

    Given that, I would think you would be applauding the pro-life movement’s pragmatism in focusing on “the principle of least harm” and fighting a battle they have a possibility of winning rather than embarking on a death march against IVF that would turn many people off.

    If your argument is “consistency,” then I guess you can have it. If the government were to start actively funding abortions in a similar manner to how they are funding abortion, I expect that would be even more vociferously opposed than the current legal regime is.

  6. March 19, 2009 2:10 pm

    On another note, if pro-lifers were to start storming the IVF clinics, do you think Kinsley would be thoughtfully observing that while he doesn’t agree with the pro-life movement, he at least admires its moral seriousness and intellectual consistency?

    Or would he be standing and point at the whackos who want to make it impossible for infertile couples to have children, like this post?

    I think the pro-life movement is wise to, at this point, absorb attacks like Kinsley’s that it is “inconsistent” rather than take on IVF right now.

  7. David Nickol permalink
    March 19, 2009 2:27 pm

    I especially appreciate his on-the-mark response to the idiotic comment about miscarriages (I fail to understand why people think this constitutes an argument).

    MM,

    If an abortion is the moral equivalent of murder, then it would seem to follow that the death by natural causes of an unborn child is as serious as the death of a “born” child. As I have argued before, the death by natural causes of early human embryos seems not to be of concern to anyone. No one even prays for them. However, the death by natural causes of early cow or pig embryos is of concern in the cattle industry, because it is a question of productivity. It seems ironic that veterinarians are trying to save more lives of unborn cows and pigs, but nobody is trying to save the lives of unborn humans who die of natural causes.

    As I have argued before, if 60 to 80 percent of babies died within ten days of birth, there would be massive research to try to do something about it. (This is Michael Sandel’s point as well.) However, nobody cares that 60 to 80 percent of early embryos are lost.

    The point about IVF and stem-cell research is that donated embryos from IVF clinics are the source of embryos for stem-cell research. They are dying anyway. I would not make the argument that since they are going to die anyway, they might as well be used for research. I would say that they die whether or not there is stem-cell research. So if your concern is that the dignity of embryos is violated by stem-cell research, then I suppose you can oppose stem-cell research and not IVF. But if your concern is that embryos die because of stem-cell research, banning stem-cell research is not going to save them, because they will die anyway.

  8. digbydolben permalink
    March 19, 2009 2:32 pm

    I think the pro-life movement is wise to, at this point, absorb attacks like Kinsley’s that it is “inconsistent” rather than take on IVF right now.

    The “pro-life movement” isn’t “inconsistent” regarding IVF; it’s hyprocritical, since that’s where most of the embryos for embryonic stem cell research are coming from. If they truly want to come to grips with the “culture of death,” they better start appreciating that the “culture of death” IS mainstream American culture.

  9. March 19, 2009 2:43 pm

    Digby,

    It would be hypcrotical if a significant number of those opposing embryonic research personally availed themeslves of IVF. I’m not aware of any evidence that this is the case.

    As for the mainstream culture being maintream American culture, I have little trouble appreciating that.

  10. j. edwards permalink
    March 19, 2009 2:57 pm

    Shame on me for finding this discussion to be an absolute bore.

    I am still checking VN thrice daily, waiting for someone to talk about Benedict, Africa and condoms…

  11. digbydolben permalink
    March 19, 2009 3:22 pm

    “JohnMcG,” of course it’s hypocritical: they are going after the EASY targets–the politicians and legislators, who have to wrestle with the problems that are actually being CAUSED by selfish, radically individualist heterosexual couples who refuse to consider adoption–rather than philosophincally engaging the latter group, whose behaviour is approved, apparently, by the majority of Americans. It’s the majority of the Americans who reject traditional Catholic teachings regarding sexual morality and the “sacredness of life”–and who ALWAYS have rejected those teachings, throughout the history of what is actually the most egregious stepchild of Protestant heresy and the pagan “Enlightenment.”

  12. March 19, 2009 3:28 pm

    I don’t think “hypocritical” means what you think it means.

  13. David Nickol permalink
    March 19, 2009 3:47 pm

    He has pointed out that condoms don’t protect one from AIDS.

    Actually, the pope, asked about AIDS in Africa, said distributing condoms makes the situation worse (or “risks making the situation worse,” depending on whose transcript you want to believe). That is highly debatable, to say the least.

    If you mean that condoms don’t absolutely guarantee protection AIDS in the same way that they don’t protect women 100 percent of the time from getting pregnant, that’s true but not clearly stated. If you mean that condoms, used correctly and consistently, don’t dramatically lower the chance of becoming infected, then that’s not correct.

  14. March 19, 2009 3:52 pm

    David

    If it gives the expectation that one is protected, and one is not, one is more willing to put oneself at risk, and do something which could lead to AIDS. That is the problem and the situation. That is where the situation is worse. People who think they are safe will get infected; they will not know, and infect others. Even if it lowers the chance of a person becoming infected, it raises the chances of one being infected over one who abstains from risky behavior.

  15. David Nickol permalink
    March 19, 2009 3:59 pm

    I don’t think “hypocritical” means what you think it means.

    If you were pro-life and didn’t somehow try to stop parents committing infanticide in the privacy of their own homes or hospital rooms, but you did attempt to stop parents handing over their newborn babies to medical researchers to be immediately killed and used for spare parts, that would be somewhat analogous to trying to stop embryonic stem-cell research but not IVF. In both situations, the deaths will be the same. It’s just a matter of how the death occurs and what is done with the bodies.

    I guess it’s not hypocritical, unless you actively support IVF and oppose embryonic stem-cell research (which I am sure is the case for many people, although not Catholics who follow the Church’s teachings). But it is so wildly inconsistent as not to make sense.

  16. David Nickol permalink
    March 19, 2009 4:19 pm

    Henry,

    The pope didn’t explain himself, so it is difficult to know what he meant, but I think you have been reading First Things. The situation is more complex than many people think, but I believe you have oversimplified it. No one would deny that abstinence is the most effective protection against any sexually transmitted disease. However, to assume that if given the chance between no risk (abstinence), diminished risk (sex with condoms), and high risk (unprotected sex) people will consistently choose no risk flies in the face of reality. People quite regularly choose high risk, and even people who have been educated about condoms very often fail to use them consistently, thereby choosing a mix of diminished risk and high risk.

    There appears to be some slight evidence that in some groups, the distrubution of condoms slightly increases the overall risks people take. But in other populations, condoms are used correctly and consistently, and in those groups, condoms very effectively reduce the risk of HIV transmission. So HIV/AIDS prevention will be successful if heath care workers target the correct population with the correct prevention method.

    I can imagine no reason the Catholic Church should not declare it licit for a married couple, one of whom is infected and the other not, to use condoms. The Vatican is sitting on the issue, and I think that is cruel.

  17. j. edwards permalink
    March 19, 2009 7:47 pm

    Brilliant retort, Henry.

    Condoms equal sin…problem solved.

  18. alex martin permalink
    March 19, 2009 10:05 pm

    The Catholic Church stands strongly against IVF and always has. The complaining over why more pro-lifers aren’t raising the issue ought to be directed at our Protestant friends.

    “I can imagine no reason the Catholic Church should not declare it licit for a married couple, one of whom is infected and the other not, to use condoms.”

    Oh, well if YOU can’t imagine it, it simply cannot make sense… Give me a break.

  19. March 20, 2009 12:29 am

    “If I were to hazard a guess, it would be that there is a general reluctance to interfere in the so-called “private” decisions of middle class life. That is why we hear so little about divorce, about adultery, about contraception, and about attempts to “improve” fertility.”

    Isn’t divorce an easy way to move out of the middle class? Douthat, in his book Privilege, discusses at one point how few of his Harvard classmates were from “broken” families.”

    I think you are right about the class thing. Parents who seek IVF are friends of news producers and editors, if not those professionals themselves.

    Another reason is that most politically active people in the pro-life movement are in a party of libertarians and anti-regulation business types.

    And while the Democrats lack the anti-regulatory spirit of the Republicans, their activist base is so committed to “reproductive freedom” that the effect is the same.

    Is there any realistic IVF clinic regulation that could pass in the United States? Besides possibly mandating that “leftover” embryos be used for research?

    Oh, and Kinsley’s dodge of the argument is pathetic.

  20. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 6:01 am

    The Catholic Church stands strongly against IVF and always has.

    alex,

    There is no pro-life campaign against IVF. There is no discussion of prohibiting doctors who practice IVF from receiving communion. I don’t recall anyone confronting the presidential candidates over where they stood on the issue of IVF. If discarding unused embryos is the moral equivalent of murder, is there any justification for pro-lifers to throw their hands up and say, “Oh well, there’s nothing we can do about it”?

    Oh, well if YOU can’t imagine it, it simply cannot make sense… Give me a break.

    Personal remarks and sarcasm don’t add up to convincing arguments. The Vatican has had the issue of condom use to prevent HIV transition within marriage under study for years. Is it so complex that they can’t reach a conclusion? Or is it the case that the conclusion would be that in this one instance, Catholic moral theology convincingly concludes that condom use is licit, but the Vatican doesn’t want to say so?

  21. March 20, 2009 9:21 am

    David,

    Or it could be the obvious: that it’s not licit yet people are hesitant to state it yet again because:

    a) Everyone already knows the Church’s position.
    b) Those in the position to restate the teaching feel reluctant to do so yet again because they feel like the bad guys in doing so.

    Honestly, the married with AIDS argument strikes me as incredibly week. Think about it: one has sex with one’s spouse quite frequently. Condoms have a known failure rate in blocking the transmission of AIDS, and that rate is statistically higher under the conditions in which many impoverished people live. If put regular sex with condoms into that equation and you pretty much guarantee that the uninfected spouse will contract the disease eventually.

    Are you really so eager to kill Africans?

  22. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 9:34 am

    Are you really so eager to kill Africans?

    DarwinCatholic,

    Do you think that is a fair question?

  23. M.Z. permalink
    March 20, 2009 9:36 am

    The Vatican has campaigned against IVF. In France, for example, one isn’t able to get that treatment unless one is married. (One can’t get the treatment if they are in a civil union.) In most of Europe, the number of embryoes that can be created is regulated and believe in a number of places it is 2 or 4. In many places all embryoes must be implanted and can’t be stored. While not a perfect IVF policy, it certainly shows the marks of Church influence and closer adherence to basic human decency more generally than what we have in the US.

  24. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 10:49 am

    Or it could be the obvious: that it’s not licit yet people are hesitant to state it yet again because . . .

    If there were an obvious answer, why would the CDF have had it under study for years, and why would Benedict have commissioned a special study by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, which has been completed and given to him? According to a CNS story:

    The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been examining the doctrinal issues related to condom use for many years. It has done so quietly, the sources said, because the subject is sensitive and because, in the Vatican’s view, the media often fail to report the nuances involved in the discussion.

    One source said there was considerable agreement among theological experts that, from a moral point of view, the use of condoms to avoid contracting or transmitting a deadly disease is not the same as contraception and would therefore not fall under the church’s teaching against contraceptive methods in marriage.

    There are two different intentions involved, and that makes all the difference, a doctrinal expert said. He said it was not a question of a “lesser evil” that can be tolerated, but of a completely different use of an essentially neutral device.

    “There’s not much to say on a doctrinal level. The problem is that, on the other hand, the church cannot really declare, ‘Go ahead and use condoms,’ when condoms don’t offer real protection,” the source said.

    Another CNS story says the following:

    Another source said that after looking more closely at the question, the church experts decided it was premature for the Vatican to make a comprehensive statement on the theological and pastoral aspects of condom use, in part because there was not unanimity of opinion, and in part because many believed that discussion of the theological nuances would only invite confusion in the media and among Catholics.

    I am of course only speculating, but I think the feeling inside the Vatican is that from a moral viewpoint, a clear case can be made for permitting condom use for married couples in which one partner is infected, but they are so strongly opposed to condom use under all other circumstances that they just prefer not to comment on this one exception.

    Are you really so eager to kill Africans?

    It would not have surprised me if a number of others had said that, but it strikes me that it’s just not your style. I was actually not thinking specifically about Africa, but regarding African married couples, consider this:

    In countries where sex outside of marriage is common, sex without condoms within marriage is inherently risky. Data from around the world suggest that married women’s greatest risk of contracting HIV is through sexual intercourse with their husbands. HIV discordance among married and cohabiting couples in sub-Saharan Africa is high, ranging from three to 20 percent in the general population and 20 to 35 percent in couples where one partner seeks HIV services. Because the majority of these couples are not aware of their discordance, promotion of monogamy within marriage without mention of HIV-testing or condom use may actually increase HIV transmission among discordant couples. In mature epidemics, a high proportion of new HIV infections in the region is occurring within married discordant couples, but few interventions are currently targeting couples.

    If you want some idea of how much control many African women have over their own fate, check out this article titledForced to Marry Before Puberty, African Girls Pay Lasting Price.In situations where much older men have sex outside of marriage (including with prostitutes), their adolescent (or younger) wives may have little choice but to submit to sex with their HIV-infected husbands. In such situations, from the wives’ point of view, sex with condoms is preferable to sex without condoms, even if condoms do not provide 100% protection.

  25. March 20, 2009 10:55 am

    I think it’s about as fair as the question of whether the Vatican knows it would be moral for couples in the situation you describe to use condoms, but is refusing to say so because they don’t want to back down on anything relating to condoms.

    Everyone seems to love this “What about cases where one spouse has AIDS” thought game, but if you think about it mathematically the numbers are pretty stark. If you have a married couple with a normal sexual relationship, they’ll be having intercourse perhaps 100 times a year. Even a 2-3% failure rate (and the condom failure rate is much higher than that — though we have to take a rate of actually contracting the disease into account as well) basically adds up to inevitable infection within a few years.

    The Church strongly promotes a solution which will result in practically no one ever getting AIDS: Don’t have sex till you get married, and when you get married, only have sex with your spouse. If one spouse had AIDS, abstain.

    It’s not an easy solution, but it does actually work. Whereas this thought problem that people who object to the Church’s teaching on birth control are so fond of would simply amount to: “Have a condom. It’ll take longer for you to get AIDS.”

  26. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 11:06 am

    If you have a married couple with a normal sexual relationship, they’ll be having intercourse perhaps 100 times a year. Even a 2-3% failure rate (and the condom failure rate is much higher than that — though we have to take a rate of actually contracting the disease into account as well) basically adds up to inevitable infection within a few years.

    DarwinCatholic,

    The odds for heterosexual transmission of HIV from one act of heterosexual intercourse are 1 in 500. It is not a very contagious disease when compared to a cold or the flu or many other viruses. So a an occasional condom breakage is nothing near a guarantee that HIV will be transmitted. And by the way, the Vatican study looked both at the issue of morality and safety.

    I think it’s about as fair as the question of whether the Vatican knows it would be moral for couples in the situation you describe to use condoms, but is refusing to say so because they don’t want to back down on anything relating to condoms.

    Please take a look at the CNS story I quoted, in which it said the Vatican was holding off on making a pronouncement “in part because there was not unanimity of opinion, and in part because many believed that discussion of the theological nuances would only invite confusion in the media and among Catholics.” The latter, it seems to me, is pretty close to not wanting to back down on their adamant opposition to condoms. They have an answer, but they wouldn’t want to confuse people with the truth.

  27. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 11:11 am

    Don’t have sex till you get married, and when you get married, only have sex with your spouse. If one spouse had AIDS, abstain.

    See my message about the plight of young women in rural Africa.

    The Church has many solutions. It has a solution to the problem of war. “Don’t fight wars.” This is the real world we live in, and when some people obey the teachings of the Church, and others don’t, the Church’s solutions don’t always suffice.

  28. March 20, 2009 11:15 am

    Catholic sex rules are too bizarre to discuss. Condoms can help but it is the culture that needs to change. Something the pope should have addressed is the cruel practice of dry sex popular with African men.Women actually keep themselves dry artificially to please men. in addition to anal sex, that practice greatly furthers disease spreading. Women’s oppression is what needs to go. Of course, an all-male-run organization may not be the best agent for that kind of change.

  29. March 20, 2009 11:20 am

    I remember reading that NY Times article when it came out — absolutely heartbreaking.

    But at the same time, I guess I don’t read something like that and think, “Wow, the big problem these women have is that the Church says using condoms is immoral.” Frankly, I would imagine few of them know or care what the Church’s position on condoms is anyway. (Only 16% of Africans are Catholic.) I would tend to see it as much more of a problem that young girls are being forced to marry much older men, that prostitution is so widespread, that polygamy is still common, that women are treated as lacking human dignity, etc.

    I apologize for the unnecessarily sharp rhetorical question, and I’m flattered that that seems uncharacteristic for me. I’m afraid the whole Church/AIDS/condom line of argument really gets my goat, mainly because it strikes me that in the main the controversy is a case of rich residents of the developed world who don’t like the Church’s teaching on birth control using the suffering of the third world to attack the Church while actually doing very little to help those truly suffering.

  30. March 20, 2009 11:27 am

    Given how oppressed women in Africa tend to be, abstinence, faithfulness etc aren’t exactly options or choices. Of course, making someone wear a condom might not be an easy task, but giving religious weight to refusing to is beyond messed up. of course within the catholic context the awful things done are viewed as wrong, too – but people have always been great at singling out convenient rules. speaking out against female genital mutilation, that’s something important, was that addressed ?

  31. March 20, 2009 11:49 am

    I think how one takes the CNS quotes you list has a lot to do with one’s preconceived notions. But even assuming your interpretation that the Vatican thinks it would be permissable to use condoms in that situation but they’re hesitant to say so because of the global impact, consider this analogy:

    The conclusion, if it is as you speculate, would be something along the lines of: If your spouse has acquired AIDS, and he insists on having sex with you anyway, then it’s not wrong of you to try to persuade him to use a condom in order to partially protect you.

    This basically would involve saying that something which is normally considered wrong is acceptable under certain unusual circumstances. A similar situation is found in regards to theft. If someone is completely lacking in the basic necessities to keep himself alive, and someone nearby has far more than he needs and is unjustly refusing to help his neighbor, then it’s not wrong for the poor person to steal in order to stay alive.

    However, should the Church’s main response to poverty be to churn out documents and studies saying, “Don’t worry! If you’re so poor you’re on the point of death, you can alwayst steal!”

    The developed world’s fascination with condoms and Africa strikes me as of a rather similar tenor. Sure, I wouldn’t blame a Catholic woman who tried to get her husband to use condoms in that situation (whether it’s wrong or not, I wouldn’t hold her culpable) but working on that as one’s main avenue of mitigation strikes me as deeply misguided.

  32. March 20, 2009 11:57 am

    David,

    The moral licitness of condoms is not up for debate, at least within the Catholic Church. The Church has taught infallibly (with the authority of Jesus Christ) that artificial birth control is immoral, irrespective of circumstances.

    What’s the debate? The Church cannot promote something that is immoral; it would be actively participating in the damnation of eternal souls, which is the exact opposite purpose of it’s true and ultimate one (i.e. getting people to Heaven)

    MM,

    Thoughtful post.

  33. grega permalink
    March 20, 2009 12:04 pm

    As much as it might be uplifting and enjoyable for some to debate and muse about the morally ideal position for our free western societies- before getting to excited about this “Dream” perhaps compare the countries with ‘perfect’ pro life legislation and societal norms in terms of Abortion/IVF/ Contraception/ Premarital sex with imperfect countries like ours /Latin America/Europe/China /India/most Asian societies and tell me what the fat chance is we will take our moral pointers from the Saudi Arabias/ Pakistans of this world?

    I think it is perfectly fine to trim a bit around the edges – BUT – make no mistake substantial change is not in the books.
    Lets face it some Abortions are here to stay -as the recent case of the Brazilian Girl demonstrated – ESCR will go on (and should go on in my personal opinion) until Scientist prove its value/or not in comparison to Adult Stem Cell Research.

    Free, innovative, curious citizens simply do not make for good “Fundamentalist” or “Talibans” – that is the point of our society and at the core of our success.

  34. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 1:01 pm

    The moral licitness of condoms is not up for debate, at least within the Catholic Church.

    Zach,

    I can only say that you clearly are not paying any attention. Follow the links to the CNS stories I have already given, or read this.

    The licitness of condoms under certain limited circumstances has and is being debated at the highest levels of the Church. Then Cardinal Ratzinger was part of the debate, and ordered a study of the matter as pope. The study was submitted to Benedict some time ago, and sources say it has a broad range of opinion. There as is yet no official word from the Church as to whether is licit or illicit for a married couple to use condoms to prevent the infected partner from transmitting the virus to his or her spouse.

    That the issue is under study and not resolved is a matter of fact, not my opinion. How can there be a rational discussion when the known facts are denied?

  35. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 1:19 pm

    The conclusion, if it is as you speculate, would be something along the lines of: If your spouse has acquired AIDS, and he insists on having sex with you anyway, then it’s not wrong of you to try to persuade him to use a condom in order to partially protect you.

    DarwinCatholic,

    I think the above goes without saying! I wouldn’t need the CDF to make a pronouncement on that. If someone is trying to force you into doing something that will infect you with a deadly virus, surely you have the right to attempt to protect yourself. Does the Catholic Church really teach that if you are being forced to have sex against your will, you have to die rather than try to get your husband to use a condom?

    The conclusion I would expect from the Church would be that it was perfectly licit, as long as both partners were willing to take the risk, for condoms to be used by married couples in which one partner was infected. That would be reasonable and humane, and well within Catholic thought (principle of double effect), as long as condoms were used solely with the intent of preventing infection.

  36. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 1:31 pm

    If someone is trying to force you into doing something that will infect you with a deadly virus, surely you have the right to attempt to protect yourself.

    If I may comment on my own comment, common law says it is permissible to use deadly force against someone attempting to rape you. A wife would be justified in shooting her husband who is forcing her to have sex against her will. I don’t even think the matter of HIV would be necessary to justify it. Doesn’t a person have a right to protect herself from being raped and/or infected with a deadly virus? Is trying to persuade someone in those circumstances to use a condom less moral than shooting him? Would it be the advice of the Church for 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old girls to meekly submit to sex with their 50-year-old husbands?

  37. March 20, 2009 1:44 pm

    David,

    I’ve seen the article; debate or discuss all they want, theologians will never get the Magisterium to contradict the moral norms outlined in Humanae Vitae. And condoms, irrespective of what your intention is, prevent pregnancy artificially. This is a direct contradiction of HV and the Catechism:

    [W]e must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (HV 14).

    “[E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (CCC 2370).

    “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means . . . for example, direct sterilization or contraception” (CCC 2399).

    By the way, my initial reaction is to think it insane to say that a married couple in which one of the spouses has HIV should still attempt conjugal relations. The risk of infecting your spouse alone is or ought to be enough to warrant abstinence. Condoms are certainly not foolproof, and engaging in marital relations would almost be like manslaughter or at least great indifference to the safety of your spouse.

  38. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 2:29 pm

    Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman.

    Zach,

    By your reasoning, a woman with endometriosis could not have a hysterectomy, since it would render her sterile.

    You are also ignoring this paragraph from Humanae Vitae:

    On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

    As I argued above, “the pill” may be licitly used, even though it causes infertility, in medical treatments provided contraception isn’t intended. Why should a legitimate medical use of condoms be different, if used to prevent the transmission of disease without contraceptive intent?

    The risk of infecting your spouse alone is or ought to be enough to warrant abstinence.

    I would say this is something that should be left up to the spouses. My brother-in-law was in the hospital, infected with an antibiotic-resistant “superbug.” He was isolated from other patients, and my sister had to wear a gown, a mask, and other protective garments to protect herself and also to keep from carrying the bug outside the hospital room. Now, there was obviously some risk involved. She could have called him on the phone, so why take the risk of visiting him in person?

    Please note that I am not claiming the question of condoms in this case is settled (although I personally think it is a no-brainer). But I am saying it is that it is still under discussion. See this, for which I have already posted a link:

    In 2006, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, announced that his council had handed in a 200-page study on condoms in AIDS prevention, for further development by the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.

    The pontifical council’s study, the cardinal said at that time, included “an enormous rainbow” of theological and moral positions, from theologians who expressed “very rigorous” opinions against condom use even when used as a disease-preventing measure to those who held a “very understanding” perspective.

    The hope was that, after additional study, the doctrinal congregation or even Pope Benedict might make a pronouncement on the complex questions.

    But sources told CNS in mid-March that the doctrinal congregation’s action on the report has been quietly put on hold, at least for the moment.

    “You could say officially that it remains under study,” one source said.

    Another source said that after looking more closely at the question, the church experts decided it was premature for the Vatican to make a comprehensive statement on the theological and pastoral aspects of condom use, in part because there was not unanimity of opinion, and in part because many believed that discussion of the theological nuances would only invite confusion in the media and among Catholics.

  39. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 2:36 pm

    From Humanae Vitae: Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

    If condoms are used by married couples to prevent the transmission of HIV, they do not specifically intended to prevent procreation. They do not intend to prevent it at all. In fact, in one of the studies I was reading about couples in Africa, one of the reasons couples did not use condoms was because they wanted children.

  40. March 20, 2009 2:52 pm

    Let’s take a step back.

    The original post featured a prominent writer making the case that pro-lifers are morally unserious because they oppose embryonic research with much greater intesity than IVF. MM, presumably sympathetic to the pro-life position, found this argument to be, if not persuasive, but compelling enough to note here, and to offer the opinion that a prominent pro-life writer had failed to adquately address it.

    In such a political climate, where people are so eager to shout “hypocrisy!” how do you think the Vatican stating that condom use was licit in certain circumstances would be licit?

    This isn’t an excuse if the policy is objectively unjust (though I’m not convinced it is), but perhaps we might understand the Vatican’s reluctance.

    And, as was noted above, if we’re honest here, most “condoms in Africa” people aren’t as much concerned about Africans as themselves.

  41. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 3:08 pm

    In such a political climate, where people are so eager to shout “hypocrisy!” how do you think the Vatican stating that condom use was licit in certain circumstances would be licit?

    Would be greeted? Would be perceived/received?

    And, as was noted above, if we’re honest here, most “condoms in Africa” people aren’t as much concerned about Africans as themselves.

    How does this contribute to the discussion? Suppose I said most people who adamantly oppose condom use in all circumstances are more concerned about their own smug self-righteousness than they are about the poor and the sick in Africa? I am not saying that, by the way. I am just pointing out that its argumentum ad hominem.

  42. March 20, 2009 3:09 pm

    David,

    I’m sorry I don’t understand how that’s a response to anything I wrote.

  43. March 20, 2009 3:11 pm

    Sorry that was kind of rude. I understand how it’s a response I just can’t follow your argument.

  44. March 20, 2009 3:44 pm

    I wouldn’t need the CDF to make a pronouncement on that. If someone is trying to force you into doing something that will infect you with a deadly virus, surely you have the right to attempt to protect yourself. Does the Catholic Church really teach that if you are being forced to have sex against your will, you have to die rather than try to get your husband to use a condom?

    If I may comment on my own comment, common law says it is permissible to use deadly force against someone attempting to rape you. A wife would be justified in shooting her husband who is forcing her to have sex against her will. I don’t even think the matter of HIV would be necessary to justify it. Doesn’t a person have a right to protect herself from being raped and/or infected with a deadly virus? Is trying to persuade someone in those circumstances to use a condom less moral than shooting him? Would it be the advice of the Church for 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old girls to meekly submit to sex with their 50-year-old husbands?

    Okay, now you’re confusing me. You said above, “The odds for heterosexual transmission of HIV from one act of heterosexual intercourse are 1 in 500. It is not a very contagious disease when compared to a cold or the flu or many other viruses.” and thus argued that “the occasional condom breakage” doesn’t matter. Now you’re arguing that “someone is trying to force you into doing something that will infect you with a deadly virus”. You do have to pick eventually which it is.

    If AIDS is so hard to get that the fact that condoms are not very effective (especially when being used inconsistently by people under poverty-ridden conditions) then it doesn’t sound like the threat is that great, just a “nice to have”. If the threat is so great, then condoms are a lousy means of protection against such a horrific threat.

    In regards to your question: I think that a teenage wife whose 50 year old husband is forcing himself on her against her will is perfectly justified in fleeing or cutting his member off or killing him or any of a number of things in order to escape such a horrific situation. However, I’m unclear how a condom qualifies as a defense against rape. After all, if the rapist uses a condom, you still get raped, just slightly more “safely”. This is an improvement?

    It’s like arguing that if someone announces he’s going to shoot you, you’re justified in asking him to stab you with a knife instead. Negotiating the conditions of an attack on you is not defense.

    I don’t think that a self defense argument will achieve what you’re looking for here. And your example only serves to underscore that simply tossing condoms at people in horrific living situations is pretty much the least caring thing one could do. How about insisting that people not be forced into marriages before they’re of age, and forbidding men who’ve gone and picked up AIDS from prostitutes from getting married at all. There’s a charity crusade for you.

  45. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 3:46 pm

    I understand how it’s a response I just can’t follow your argument.

    Zach,

    If I made myself more clear, you would still disagree. And then I would disagree with your answer, and you would disagree with my response, and then . . .

    Let me just sum up my position by saying that whether or not a Catholic married couple, one of whom is infected with HIV, may licitly use condoms to prevent transmission of the virus (provided they have no contraceptive intent) is a matter on which the Church has taken no official position. I am saying that I think it is in keeping with Catholic thought to say that condom use is licit in this one small area. Obviously, from what we know about the report given to Pope Benedict, experts disagree. So I am not surprised there is disagreement on Vox Nova. My main point, however, is that the issue is not settled, and there is no official Church position on the matter. That is not my opinion. It’s a fact.

  46. March 20, 2009 3:57 pm

    David,

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Your argument assumes that the immorality of contraception is or can be dependent upon circumstances. I do not think that is the case, as the Church has explicitly taught that it is not.

    If I’m wrong, I’m wrong; but in this small case I don’t think I am. And I am open to being corrected if I am indeed wrong.

  47. David Nickol permalink
    March 20, 2009 4:25 pm

    Your argument assumes that the immorality of contraception is or can be dependent upon circumstances. I do not think that is the case, as the Church has explicitly taught that it is not.

    Zach,

    No, my argument assumes that contraceptive intent is necessary for the use of a particular, potentially contraceptive drug or device to be illicit. As I quoted above from Humanae Vitae:

    On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

    A Catholic married woman may use “the pill” for a number of non-contraceptive reasons (e.g., endometriosis), or she may be sterilized (e.g., hysterectomy for fibroid tumors), as long as contraception or sterilization is not the intended and desired end. I am assuming the same situation would apply to preventing bodily disease as to curing it. My assumption may be wrong, but it has not yet been declared either right or wrong by the Church.

  48. March 20, 2009 5:08 pm

  49. March 20, 2009 5:30 pm

    Hmm

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