Saturday, 10 December 2011

Put nuns on the Pill

Our friend Scout, ever keen to educate the Catholics of the world from his or her position of unique enlightenment, has drawn my attention to a report in the Lancet. Actually, he or she links to the Guardian, which is slightly easier perhaps, but the Lancet article may be found here.

The point is that some Australian researchers report a link between the celibate life of a nun and a higher risk of contracting breast, ovarian and uterine cancer. Further, they note that the contraceptive pill is reported to reduce such risks (though in the case of breast cancer, at least, there has been much contradictory reporting of evidence over the years, so the case is perhaps not quite so clear cut.)

Therefore, Catholic Nuns should be put on the Pill.

I have a few observations to offer:

One is that I can't help thinking that some of the motivation behind this reporting is anti-Catholic and slightly puerile: ho ho ho nuns on the Pill - that'll show the Vatican!...

A second is that if the Pill is taken as a bona fide medicine, by a celibate woman, and therefore with no chance of it acting as either a contraceptive or an abortifacient, it's probably a non-issue; just as if I use a condom as an insulating material in an electrical circuit (as happened in The Day of the Jackal, if I remember correctly), that is not a moral problem.

A third (and Scout will love this one) is that the whole argument is premised on the assumption that nuns will want to avoid disease and live longer and healthier lives. That is not an unreasonable assumption; but there are other possibilities. The celibate life is overtly and deliberately self-sacrificial (that is one of the principal reasons it is so derided). St Bernadette, for example, saw her vocation as to suffer, and was by no means unique in this. So it seems to me quite possible that some (a few? many? all?) nuns may be quite happy to accept the cup that their Lord is offering them when they swear to celibacy, even including an earlier death.

But for the average Guardian reader, I fear that will be entirely incomprehensible.


A Reluctant Sinner said...

Excellent post.

It would seem to me, though, that the soul who wrote to you might actually be searching for the truth - even if s/he doesn't realise it.

Prayers for you and Scout.

Mater mari said...

An excellent post; informative, thoughtful, reasoned and highly amusing. Mind, I'm not sure if I will ever see our electrician in the same light again!

Scout said...

Interesting comments, Ben. I'm not without empathy for your perception that this is all a bit sensationalist. It's not really fair to blame 'The Guardian' for this though, because they are just reporting what the scientists (Dr. Britt and Professor Short) are saying. It occurs to me that they could have just said "women who have not gone through child-bearing can reduce their risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancers by taking the pill". ie. Why drag nuns into the analysis?

One can argue, as you do, that nuns are being drawn into this out of anti-Catholic prejudice. However, there is another perspective. If the authors of the study *are* correct, and nuns (because most are childless) *are* more likely to contract these cancers, and taking the pill *can* reduce those risks, and there *is* theological leeway for the Catholic Church to allow nuns to go on the pill in order to reduce these risks...then wouldn't it actually be anti-Catholic *not* to make the obvious sensible recommendation?

I question the moral appropriateness of suggesting nuns should refuse to take actions to reduce their health risks because of a "vocation to suffer". Don't get me wrong - I'm not demanding anybody should use preventative medicine that really goes against their deeply-held beliefs...but the fact is that if these scientists are right in their analysis, then there is an opportunity to do something very positive for the health of women serving in Catholic religious vocations.

Scout said...

By the way, Ben, I'm a guy :)