Wednesday, April 26, 2006

More to the story than it first appeared

(Note: this post might be a bit much for younger readers as it deals with genital sexuality and other related matters. You might shoo the kidlets away before continuing.)

Thanks to everyone who sent messages and called asking my input on this subject. Of course, until I see the document I will keep my comments general and try to see both sides of the issue. I know, it is out of character for me, but roll with it.

The whole issue settles around how the principle of double effect plays into this. Stated simply, the principle of double effect means that when a good is intended but the means to achieve that end includes an unintended evil effect, that evil can be tolerated. For example, you are a police officer: you pull your weapon to defend yourself against an assailant and end up killing the man. The good here is self-defense, the evil consequence which was foreseeable but not intended is the death of the assailant.

Contrary to popular perception, the priniciple of double effect is not a rubber stamp to do whatever you want. It is a limited permission so to speak. In the example above, the police officer would not be justified in starting from the death of the assailant even if the outcome would be the same, namely the good of self-defense is promoted. Rather, you must always start from the good in question and then see if you can prevent the evil consequence.

In the question of condom use by AIDS victims, you would have automatically a limited field of consideration. It would have to be a married couple (since genital behavior outside of marriage would be excluded) in which only one of whom had AIDS. If both had AIDS, then protecting the partner from the disease becomes a moot point. Further, you could not make the claim, I think, that you would be justified in preventing pregnancy in light of the potential future suffering of the offspring who might contract the disease from the infected mother. Ultimately the fate of the child falls into God's hands and I would think that a limited existence is still better than frustrating existence all together. An interesting consideration would include what are the chances of infection from mother to child.

To apply the principle then, the good in question is the prevention of disease between a married couple one of whom has a life threatening disease. The evil is the prevention of the conception of a child. Into this calculation then, we must introduce a question of risk: how reliable are condoms in preventing the spread of AIDS? Quite frankly, I can't answer that. The research I have heard of second hand is not all that promising. It has something to do with the microscopic holes present in latex due to the way the material is made. Compounding this would be the incidences of condom failure. In the case of condom failure, it would be a catestrophic and potentially deadly infective exposure. So, in my personal opinion, I think theoretically you could make a case but the potential risks outweigh any possible benefit from genital sexual activity. Continence might be the best way to say "I Love You."

As another interesting side note, the guys over at Hands and Feet Podcast (let Google find it for you) had some comparitive stats about AIDS in Africa. I don't have them in front of me, and I suggest you harass them for those numbers, but in effect as the Catholic population figure rose, the number of AIDS cases dropped. They suggested this had to do with obedience to the Church's teaching concerning human sexuality and I would be inclined to agree. After all, initially, scientists were going to call the disease "Kinshasa Highway Syndrome" because it migrated along a major highway system in Africa, mainly due to the presence of infected prostitutes. If those gentlemen had not frequently prostitutes, and all the accompying behavior, the figures might work remarkably differently.

Also, the MSM has not been telling the whole story (no, no, I'll pause while that shock passes...) about Cardinal Martini's comments. Apparently the first half was correctly related: the retired Cardinal thought it was a case of the lesser evil for a couple facing this difficulty with AIDS to use a condom. However, the news hasn't mentioned this: "Cardinal Martini questioned whether religious leaders should promote anti-AIDS condom campaigns, because he said they risk promoting sexual irresponsibility. That has been the primary argument of other church leaders, who have also said – as Pope Benedict did last June in a message to African bishops – that chastity and fidelity are the only fail-safe ways to prevent the spread of the disease." Why this part hasn't been bandied about is up in the air. I could uncharitibly suspect it has something to do with the fact that Western culture has been so sexually irresponible for the last several decades that any mention of responsibility and sexuality comes across like the pops and clicks of Flipper on speed. But that's just me.

So, keep your ears and eyes posted and we'll see what shakes out.

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