May 9, 2014 § 78 Comments
In the comments below, CJ writes:
Also, (I’d like Zippy or someone else to correct me if I’m wrong), but even if a woman had a hysterectomy to remove, say, a cancerous uterus, the surgery itself would be licit under double effect, but subsequent intercourse would be sinful.
As with many things I think the Catholic answer is that there is no one-and-done Catholic answer: that is, there is a range of theological opinion which is consistent with doctrine. That doesn’t mean that there is no right answer. It just means that the Magisterium of the Church has not officially defined, as doctrine, specifically what the right answer happens to be in the detailed cases under consideration.
My own personal view encompasses a “range within the range” (with all the usual caveats: I’m just some guy who happens to be Catholic). My views are considered pretty hard core, but they are not as ‘strict’ as what CJ suggests. In my view the principle of double-effect for the most part does not enter into it, since we are working with questions of intrinsic morality. The principle of double-effect only apples to questions of extrinsic morality, when the behaviors in question are morally neutral in themselves qua chosen behaviors.
A person can be dealing with any of three different factual situations: (1) naturally fertile organs, (2) accidentally infertile/diseased/mutilated organs, or (3) deliberately mutilated organs which were healthy prior to the deliberate mutilation. “Accidental” here refers to the choices of the person whose body it is: forced sterilization by a government or whatever is ‘accidental’ in the morally pertinent sense, as is disease and, uh, accident. It is important to keep in mind that a purely physical description of the objective physical facts fails to encompass a moral description of the morally pertinent objective facts.
Case (2) breaks down further, because in some cases (2a) diseased organs threaten a woman’s health no matter what she does (cancer, say) and in others (2b) they do not threaten her health unless she becomes pregnant. Assume the diseased organ has been removed — an assumption to which we shall return.
Case (3) breaks down further into situations where the person has made a bona fide attempt to reverse his self-mutilation (3a) and cases where he has not (3b).
My present view is that (married, obviously) sexual relations are definitely and unquestionably licit in cases (1) and (2a) (directly contrary to CJ’s impression). I don’t have a strong view of whether relations are morally licit in cases (2b) and (3a) (the ‘hard cases’ if you will), and I am pretty certain that relations are illicit in case 3b. (It is this latter conclusion that makes some folks consider my views “hard core” or rigorous, sometimes incorrectly characterized as rigorist or physicalist).
(2b) is a ‘hard case’ because it is pregnancy itself which is a threat to the mother’s health, not the diseased organ. The real issue is whether it is morally licit to remove the diseased organ in the first place. It is not in fact a healthy organ, which suggests that it is licit to remove it. It is not however a threat to health in itself if left alone, which suggests that it is an illicit self-mutilation to remove it. I relate to the inclination toward the former, because removing a diseased but non-threatening organ does not strike me intuitively as ‘self-mutilation’ in the same sense as removing a healthy organ. It bears passing similarity to the situation when nuns who are at risk of rape use contraception. But I am uneasy with any definite, categorical conclusion in this far corner of the casuistry; possibly because different concrete cases might have to be broken down further.