Voluntary Sterilization Severs God's Perfect Creative Plan for Our Lives
Voluntary Sterilization Severs God's Perfect Creative Plan for Our Lives
by Fr. Denis St. Marie and Fr. Paul Marx
After twenty years of worldwide travel and teaching the benefits of natural family planning (NFP) and the harmful effects of abortion, sterilization and contraception, we have concluded that deliberate human sterilization to avoid conception poses an enormous threat to the Church; indeed to the entire world.
Sterilization literally severs the neutered person's relationship with God. Through sterilization, God's precious gift of life and its transmission mankind's most special sharing in the creative aspect of God's character -- is being rejected; in most instances irrevocably.
There are three types of sterility. Some people are born sterile. These people constitute about 20 percent of the world's couples. Many more unfortunate couples are sterile due to secondary effects of medical treatments or other causes. These couples are guilty of no wrong, but they suffer all the same; far more than we can imagine. Our hearts go out to them.
The third group of sterile partners consists of those who voluntarily have opted for some procedure to make them sterile. Their sterility may be temporary or permanent. It may be the husband or the wife who has been sterilized. It may have been done by surgery, medication, radiation or by some other method.
It is this third group that we are dealing with in this article.
Most of these men and women were badly advised by their doctors that they should be sterilized. They were told that another pregnancy could jeopardize the wife's health and maybe even her life.
After explaining the situation to their pastor, the couple may have been told that he didn't understand these things, but if a good doctor said it was necessary, then they should follow their conscience. In such cases, they probably committed no sin, and have no need of confession. This seldom is the case, however. Most couples who choose voluntary sterilization choose something that is morally wrong.
There is nothing inherently wrong with following the doctor's advice to avoid another pregnancy when the health of the mother, or even that of the father, is at serious risk. It is up to the couple to decide when they will conceive and how many children they will have. It is the means that they use to accomplish this that is subject to question.
What the Church teaches
This is what the Church teaches: "Equally to be avoided is direct sterilization, whether permanent or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman" (Humanae Vitae #14). Direct sterilization is the only surgical procedure performed solely to destroy the sound functioning of a healthy organ. This is neither good medicine nor good morals. The end never justifies the means; so here we are faced with a question of immorality. Every medical operation involves some risk, and that certainly includes direct sterilization. It is probably a far less dangerous procedure for men than it is for women, but the man who undergoes sterilization is subject to some harmful secondary effects.
Since, on a worldwide basis, women are sterilized with five times greater frequency than men, let's briefly consider some of the secondary effects that we can substantiate with medical studies.
The sterilized woman is seven times more likely to suffer an ectopic pregnancy than the woman who has not been sterilized. This number is so small that, even multiplied seven times, it is still perhaps statistically insignificant unless that number happens to include you. The sperm sometimes find their way to the ovum by circumventing the serrated portion of the fallopian tubes. But since the fertilized ovum is considerably larger, it cannot come down the fallopian tube, and so an ectopic pregnancy results. When the symptoms appear, the woman may be advised that she has a cyst or a tumor. The doctor probably will insist that the trapped, growing embryo constitutes an emergency threat to the mother's life. He will claim he needs to operate at once.
Another more common, but less understood, effect of sterilization on young women is their accelerated entry into pre-menopause. It depends upon how much of the fallopian tube has been destroyed, reducing the blood supply to the ovaries. They begin to function less efficiently, reducing the production of estrogen and progesterone, the feminizing hormones.
When the sterilized woman is in her twenties or early thirties, her chances of having difficult periods in her forties or sooner are all too common. She may have painful, prolonged, irregular or copious bleeding as the years progress. This often leads her to the fourth most common effect: hysterectomy, the removal of her uterus, with or without her ovaries.
Women who have been sterilized are at least twenty times more likely to need a hysterectomy than women who have not been sterilized, according to Dr. Patricio Mena of the University of Chile.
A highly competent obstetrician/gynecologist with a large practice some years ago in the San Diego area once told us that there were 64 gynecological surgeons there at that time. The more surgery, the more money, so they sterilized a lot of women. Months after their operations, some of these women came in to complain of irregular bleeding. The doctor would do a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure. Despite initial relief, many of these women later returned to complain about the same problem. The surgeon did a second D&C. When the woman returned a third time, the unscrupulous doctor would tell her that, after all, she was now in her early thirties and so in need of a hysterectomy. Our doctor-friend's comment: "The surgeon got four checks for something he should not have done in the first place."
While the physical effects of sterilization are quite easy to demonstrate statistically, the greater effect probably is not physical but psychological. No person escapes the emotional effects. Sooner or later, to some degree, every sterilized person will have to suffer some psychological effect. There is an old saying that God always forgives, men forgive sometimes, but nature NEVER forgives. When the doctor destroys the sound functioning of a healthy organ, nature simply does not forgive. Jealous of her fertility, she strikes back.
Some years ago, a lady doctor, an expert in NFP in southern France, asked me why men with sterilized wives often impregnate fertile women, as if they no longer find their wives sexually attractive or interesting. The doctor claimed to have often seen such cases. There is no clear explanation. We seemingly must consign this phenomenon to the subtle, delicate psychological twists and turns of wounded human sexuality.
Men also are affected by sterilization, although perhaps to a lesser degree than are women. Sooner or later, sterilized men suffer some psychological, as well as physical, effects. Although the physical and emotional repercussions for men seem to be far less than for women, there are indications that male sterilization increases the possibility of circulatory problems due to blocked sperm. This may result in a heart attack or stroke, but these effects seem to appear years later. So why worry? The man may die of an accident before these effects even occur. But in case he does not have that accident, maybe he will have to worry.
The physiological or psychological consequences of male neutering are still largely matters for theoretical speculation. At a huge Planned Parenthood meeting some years ago a speaker frankly admitted that no one knew what happened to the undelivered sperm. He spoke vaguely about vasectomy causing white corpuscle mischief in the bloodstream.
Grave spiritual damage
But now we arrive at the most serious effect of sterilization, one you probably have never heard of, or thought about. We believe the gravest effect of direct sterilization is SPIRITUAL.
Many people will get to heaven to be with God, who is Love and Life, by having married for love and for life. They are the ends or purposes of the sacrament of marriage. Sex is an integral part of marriage. It is, in fact, the "matter" of the sacrament. And sex, like marriage, is for Love and for Life. It is only on infrequent occasions that sexual activity produces new human life; more often it is for the fortifying or nurturing of the love of the couple.
Love by its very nature must be fruitful. Of course, there are many ways love can be fruitful without leading to the procreation of children. The religious life is testimony to that. God is Love and God is Life. You can no more divide love from life than you can divide God. Sexual relations motivated by love and concern in marriage are always good, licit and sanctifying - provided that the marital act remains open to life.
Most people will get to heaven because they married for love and life and raised children for love and for life. Many sterilized people - especially those who have misguidedly undergone "the procedure" - will get to heaven as well, since they have manifested much love.
A field that is sterile is one that doesn't produce anything, or at least one that produces little of worth. A sterile mind is one that likewise isn't worth much, since it doesn't produce much of value. What about a purposely sterilized marriage? By an act of their will, the partners have neutered their marriage. Their sex life, which should very much be a means of sanctification, has likewise been rendered sterile. The marriage surely can produce some good, but that good has been minimized, and to no purpose. Where necessary, births can be morally regulated through highly effective Natural Family Planning methods.
God writes straight
God finds ways to write straight with crooked lines. Many of these people, as they get to their early forties, when life is not as hectic as it was a few years earlier, have more time now and take more seriously the work of personal sanctification. They become increasingly involved in the life of their parish and in its apostolic movements. Since they no longer have small children, they have time to dedicate themselves to good works. But gnawing within them is a certain dissatisfaction. They know something is not complete. Bring up the subject of sterilization and often the tears begin to flow. The normal means of sanctification in marriage has been compromised. The spayed couple sense that their marriage and sexual life is somehow lacking, and indeed it is. It has been sterilized. How is this problem be corrected? We don't think it can be. How can it be alleviated or sublimated? That is the challenge.
Most people probably have never heard a sermon dealing with sterilization. If they are fortunate, perhaps they have heard their priests speak out against contraceptives and publicly condemn abortion now and then. But the subject of sterilization is seldom broached, even from Catholic pulpits, despite the fact that sterilization has become the most common means of birth control in the world.
Surely, abortion in itself is a far graver sin than sterilization. But we suspect that few women maliciously decide to undergo an abortion. Most abortions are the product of desperation, fear and ignorance.
The barren truth
Perhaps not many practicing Catholic married people have abortions. But one out of every five fertile couples in the world is sterilized. About 23 percent take the pill, 21 percent use condoms and 20 percent are now sterilized. In the United States, those percentages are constantly increasing. There is no decrease in the number of sterilized people, since few abandon permanent sterilization with a corrective operation.
Everyone eventually abandons contraceptives. The surviving victims of abortion can repent and be reconciled. So, too, in theory can those who are sterilized. But how does the sterilized person realistically repent or change his or her mind? In practice, sterilization is forever.
A startling report from South Bend, Indiana, showed that -- of those couples who have been married for fifteen years, and who have used contraceptives for more than ten of those years -- almost 67 percent were sterilized. Contraception leads to abortion, but even more often it leads to sterilization.
Being "pro-life" means being open to life; it means having a sexual relationship that remains open to the possibility of the transmission of life without resorting to abortion, sterilization or contraceptives. God the Creator is never excluded from a godly marriage.
Father Paul Marx, O.S.B., Ph.D., is founder and president of Human Life International. He has spoken internationally and written extensively on the evils of sterilization, contraception and abortion. Father Denis St. Marie is associate pastor of the Church of St. Rita in Solon, Ohio. He has spoken about these evils to groups of priests and seminarians for the past 20 years.