A reader writes:
First off before I start I am absolutely convinced that the Church is correct in its teaching regarding contraception. I do not want the Church to change it ever because the Church is right about the proper place of conception in the context of marriage.
But I have a problem. My wife is battling for her life...she has Stage IV metastatic cancer. One thing that is never in the debate is what about the scenario where someone is taking Chemotherapy and they MUST use birth control (or abstain completely) if they are to be on it. Additionally with something like her type of cancer there is the added problem that someone who is fighting it hard is likely to be on Clinical trials which absolutely require the use of contraception.
OF COURSE I could abstain. And truthfully I try very hard to do that. But what do I do in the instance where my wife comes to me needing the comfort that the marriage act can provide? I MUST comply with her desires and CAN NOT REFUSE her. It is morally wrong for me to in the normal course of events so it is certainly reprehensible for me to refuse her when she needs the comforts of the marriage act.
I can't even say that SHE is sinning (at least not willfully) when she requests this of me. So I have come to the following conclusion. My will is severely compromised in this regard. I cannot risk my wife's harm and I cannot deny her needs. As a result, this is simply not a mortal sin for me. Don't get me wrong...I don't want to commit even the slightest venial sin (and this is NOT a trivial sin it is very serious) with abandon, but this is an issue that is impossibly difficult for me.
The problem I have is this logic is what caused the Anglican communion to head down the slippery slope of even accepting abortion. I don't want to contribute to the "contraceptive mentality" and perhaps I am a victim of it.
So the long and short is this...dare I ever mention this in a public forum? It seems to me that this sort of struggle is one that couples with cancer are just going to face if the want badly to be faithful Catholics. I would gladly give my Life for the faith. But to sacrifice the love of someone I love for the faith...that is the kind of caritas that only the greatest of saints can have. I fear I just will never be capable of that kind of sanctity (God forgive me).
First, let me say that I grieve for your situation and I ask all my readers to pray for you and your wife and all in similar situations.
I will do my best to shed what light I can on the moral aspect of the situation.
It is not clear to me the reason why the use of chemotherapy--or this kind of chemotherapy--is thought to require the use of contraception. I can see two possibilities: (1) If it is hormonal contraception, it is to regulate a woman's hormones since the chemo somehow messes with those (i.e., the use of the Pill has a therapeutic effect in this case) or (2) it is to prevent the conception of a child, either because the child could suffer birth defects, could miscarry, could not be carried to term, or because getting pregnant would further harm the mother's health. The latter could be either hormonal or non-hormonal contraception.
If the first is the case then the use of the Pill is not contraceptive; it is therapeutic. As a result, it is potentially justifiable under the law of double effect. In that case, the contraceptive effect would be a side effect of the hormone regulation. It would not be a means or an end of the hormone regulation. For a sufficient reason, a side effect of infertility can be tolerated under the law of double effect.
If, however, the intention behind the act is to prevent the conception of a child--for whatever reason--or if it is to prevent the conception of a child in order to help the mother's health then the contraceptive effect is either an end or a means, and the act of contraception is not morally justifiable.
Here it is not clear to me whether the reader's wife is currently using contraception or not. If she is using contraception and cannot reasonably be dissuaded from using it (e.g., if she is too emotionally strained and alarmed by her situation to be able to grapple with the question) then the Church would not hold that it is a sin for the reader to pay the marriage debt to her.
Catholic moral theology recognizes that, when one partner (culpably or inculpably) insists on using contraception then it is possible to continue conjugal relations if other partner does what is possible to change the situation (e.g., praying about the matter and waiting for a favorable time to revisit the situation) and as long as he (or she) is not being required to do anything immoral (as would be the case, for example, if a wife insisted on her husband using a condom; that would require the husband to do something immoral, or alternately if a husband insisted on his wife using the Pill, which would require the wife to do something immoral). Further discussion of this matter is provided in the Vademecum for Confessors (see section 3:13).
If, however, the reader's wife is not currently using contraception or if she can reasonably be dissuaded from using it then this is what needs to be done. It does not seem to me, however, that this automatically means a discontinuation of marital relations.
Your wife has a grave reason to be on chemotherapy, and it is justified that he remain on it. The question is what kind of conduct is morally appropriate given that fact.
It is true (I assume) that the state you and your wife find yourself in is one in which there would be dangers to a child you might conceive, but there are many couples who are in that situation naturally--quite apart from chemotherapy. Lots of couples are in situations--due to genetic factors, physical factors, or other factors--where any child they conceive is at risk. Some are incapable of carrying a child to term, so every child they conceive will automatically miscarry, or they have genetic disorders such that every child they conceive will have birth defects.
Yet the Church has never told these people that they must stop having sex or stop trying to conceive a normal child if, by some miracle, they were able to have one.
The children they have might have birth defects and might die, but these are physical evils, and one thing is true of all physical evils in this life: They are temporary. It doesn't matter how deformed a child is in this life or how short his life is. Those things won't apply in the resurrection. In the resurrection, God will give any child you conceive infinite physical life in perfect health. These factors have to be taken into consideration when making decisions about what risks are acceptable in conceiving a child that might have birth defects or a short life in the present age. We cannot proceed from a caculus that treats this life as if it is all there is and that regards birth defects and death as horrible, irremediable evils. They're just not.
If the choice is between not having a child at all and having one who will live only a finite amount of time, to be followed by an infinity of physical life without suffering then the latter would seem to be the one that benefits the child. Never having existed is a worse fate, if I may put it that way, than living only a short time and then having endless life without suffering.
It is true also (I assume) that getting pregnant could harm your wife's health and limit her chances for survival. But it is up to her to determine what risk she would be willing to take in this matter. Knowing the odds regarding survival with or without a pregnancy, if she determines that lovemaking involves an acceptable level of risk then you should respect that decision. It is not a sin. The situation is similar to that of the many women whose health or life for natural reasons could be jeopardized by a pregnancy but who decide that they are willing to accept the risk.
I therefore do not see the continuation of chemotherapy as requiring a choice between contraception and abstinence, and Catholic moral theology certainly looks with compassion on the situation of a husband and wife seeking to comfort each other as they face a grave, life-threatening situation and make decisions about how to spend the time they may have left with each other.
Before closing, I'd like to touch on one additional point. I hate to look at one part of the situation here with cynicism, but I suspect that much of the "You must go on contraception" pressure that the couple is getting is due simply to the desire of doctors not to be sued. They don't want to be sued if a child is born with birth defects, or if a child miscarries, or if a pregnancy harms a woman's health. They are thus likely exaggerating any "need" for contraception in this case.
In this connection, the reader mentions that the clinical trials available to his wife absolutely require contraception, and he may mean that you have to agree to use contraception in order to be let in on these clinical trials. Again, the pressure is likely to be due simply to doctors' desires not to be sued.
So fine. Don't sue them. If need be, have a lawyer draw up papers saying that you waive any right to sue that you might have in case of birth defect, miscarriage, or pregnancy. If you really need to, use a mental reservation regarding the use of contraception. But don't let them tell you that you need to use contraception when you don't.
In conclusion, this is a complex situation, I hope that everyone will keep the reader and his wife in prayer as they deal with the situation and ask that God will give them special comfort and wisdom and surround them with his life.
THIS POST IS SUBJECT TO RULE 20.