Risky business – German bishops allow abortive drugs, but only when they’re not abortive

Deutsche-Bischofskonferenz1At Ars Vivendi,we find English translations of statements from Joachim Cardinal Meisner and the spokesman for the press office of the Archdiocese of Cologne about the bishops’ conference’s decision to allow for the use of certain types of morning after pills in Catholic hospitals. For topics like this, it is always good to get information from the source, since there is such a  risk of words being twisted, taken out of context and changed to suit a particular agenda, and not just in secular circles.

Although the bishops’ reasoning makes sense, and fits with what the Church has consistently taught about these matters, it is an enormous leap of faith: since the reasoning hinges upon the apparent existence of pills which prevent fertilisation rather than the implantation of a fertilised egg, it is at the mercy of the medical lobby. I fervently hope that the bishops have some very good independent Catholic experts on their side in this matter.

pilledanachAlthough many would have us believe otherwise, this does not change much in the Catholic teaching about contraception and the dignity of life. Drugs like the morning after pill, even if they only prevent fertilisation, still can not be used without consequence. Sexual relations are inherently open to life. The willful blocking of the possibility of new life, such as happens with the use of condoms or, indeed, anti-fertilisation pills, is counter to Catholic teaching and sinful.

So, no, the German bishops are not saying that the morning after pill may be used whenever we want to. Rather, it is allowed in cases such as the one that triggered the whole debate: hospital treatment after a rape or other sexual crime, where the morning after pill may be used as part of the treatment. Treatment or medication which, as a side effect, may lead to the death of an unborn child, can in some cases also be used, but the intent can never be the willful killing of the child.


14 thoughts on “Risky business – German bishops allow abortive drugs, but only when they’re not abortive”

  1. I have gotten a lot of negative reactions about the ‘Bishops bending the rules’ and how in people’s understanding ‘preventing fertilization is wrong even in cases of rape’. It almost seems that some people think they have authority where they have not.

    I can see that it can be difficult to understand, but as Catholics we are called to educate ourselves about why some teachings are the way they are and faithfully accept those teachings we don’t understand.

  2. Doe het even in het NL, omdat ik anders wat moeite heb met de intonatie.

    Als zo’n pil puur ter voorkoming van bevruchting dient, kan ik het me voorstellen dat het goedgekeurd is. Maar daar heb ik zo mijn twijfels bij. Voor zover ik weet en kan vinden, heeft de pil die werkt op de ovulatie ook effect op het endometriumslijmvlies. Of zoals het in het Farmacotherapeutisch Kompas staat: “Progestageen. Onderdrukt in de voorgeschreven dosering mogelijk de ovulatie en voorkomt daarmee bevruchting als de geslachtsgemeenschap heeft plaatsgevonden kort voor de ovulatie, wanneer bevruchting het meest waarschijnlijk is. Het kan ook door endometriumveranderingen de implantatie van een bevruchte eicel voorkomen; zodra innesteling heeft plaatsgevonden is het niet meer effectief.”
    Ook goed om in dat kader dit te lezen: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/World.php?id=7088.

    Als ik het mis heb, lees ik graag de medische informatie. Tot die tijd blijf ik skeptisch.

  3. Zo’n pil dient niet puur ter voorkoming van de bevruchting, zie ook het citaat van de USCCB. De pil is vooral om een vrouw in staat te stellen zich te verdedigen tegen een bevruchting van haar aanvaller.

    De Duitse bisschoppen vergelijken dit met het toedienen van morphine aan een ongeneeselijk zieke, die behalve de verlichting van pijn ook de dood bespoedigd. Dit is toegestaan, zolang het middel gegeven wordt tegen de pijn en niet ter bespoediging van de dood. Eenzelfde redenatie in het geval van verkrachtingen.

    De USCCB zegt in haar Ethical Directive dat voor toediening morning after een onderzoek naar evt. bevruchting gedaan moet worden. Als aangenomen kan worden dat er al een bevruchting is, mag er geen morning after pil gegeven worden.

    1. Citaat USCCB: “Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”

  4. Even technisch: hoe weet je al binnen 72 uur of er bevruchting heeft plaatsgevonden?
    Zoals ik al zei: als het puur ter voorkoming van bevruchting is kan ik het ten zeerste begrijpen.

    Het is niet het medisch-ethische hier waar ik moeite mee heb, het is het puur medische punt of er daadwerkelijk zo’n pil bestaat die alleen ter voorkoming van bevruchting werkt.

  5. I can’t comment on the technical question (how is it possible, in the narrow window of opportunity existing for a few hours after forcible intercourse, determine decisively that an ovum has not been fertilised) . .

    . . but the moral issue of the right of a woman to defend herself against the semen of an attacker has been explained and defended by, e.g., Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D. (then, and possibly now also) of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, in an article from November 2007 on their website. See http://www.ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=301

  6. The bishops mainly address moral issues here and tell medical professionals to bring themselves up to speed with the latest medical developments and use their own conscience when dealing with this matter.

    To my understanding the newest morning after pills have as their main effect that they prevent fertilization, but a lot of this medication has side-effects that can damage and in extreme situations even kill developing human life. The German bishops acknowledge this and say everything needs to be done to make this risk as small as possible and point to Pius XII’s statement about terminally ill patients receiving morphine. As long as the intent is to treat pain and the main effect of the drug is treating pain, this is permitted even when it accelerates the patient’s death.

    In the same way, female rape victims can receive drugs that have as their main effect preventing fertilization, preventing ovulation etc. but have side-effects that could harm a developing human lives. As long as the intent of the treatment is preventing conception, this is permitted. That’s basically what Meisner says in my translation. He explicitly says that you can never be 100% sure or prevent things in 100% of the cases, but you can try to get close.

    Also of interest to those who read German: Die Bischöfe und die Pille danach in today’s Tagespost.

      1. I don’t compare those, the bishops do. The thing is there is no ‘the’ morning after pill. There are several drugs, with several active ingredients which work in different ways. The bishops acknowledge these new developments. In my article I just translate and explain the bishops’ stance, I don’t give my opinion on the matter since I’m not a) a theologian, b) a bioethicist and c) a doctor.

        I’m just curious what the Pontifical Academy for Life has to say about it. I refrain from commenting openly on the bishops’ stance until I have heard official comments about it from the Vatican.

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