Friday, February 19, 2016

In Zika's Shadow

The Zika virus keeps spreading. Until recently, I had never even heard of it. but now we all have, thanks to the terrible damage it apparently does to unborn children. No surprise, then, that the issue came up during Pope Francis' in-flight press conference! 

Paloma García Ovejero, of Spain's Cadena COPE asked: Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of “the lesser of two evils?”

Regarding abortion, Pope Francis responded clearly and unequivocally: Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil. ... Don’t confuse the evil of avoiding pregnancy by itself, with abortion. Abortion is not a theological problem, it is a human problem, it is a medical problem. You kill one person to save another, in the best case scenario. Or to live comfortably, no? It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned.

Regarding the "lesser evil" of avoiding pregnancy, however, the Pope referenced a purported 1960s precedent from Pope Paul VI: we are speaking in terms of the conflict between the fifth and sixth commandment. Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape. 

Without really resolving the issue, the Pope seemed to leave the question somewhat open: On the other hand, avoiding pregnancy is not an absolute evil. In certain cases, as in this one, such as the one I mentioned of Blessed Paul VI, it was clear. I would also urge doctors to do their utmost to find vaccines against these two mosquitoes that carry this disease. This needs to be worked on.

What "needs to be worked on"? Obviously finding vaccines "needs to be worked on." But what about the relevance and potential applicability of the supposed Paul VI precedent?

And, of course, there is always a significant conceptual and moral difference between generically "avoiding pregnancy" and specific methods of doing so. It is not the desirability of avoiding pregnancy that is primarily contested in this case, but rather the means to be employed in doing so.

I do not know the history of whether and how it actually occurred. But, if I understand it correctly, the purported Paul VI precedent applied to a case of religious sisters threatened by rape in a war zone employing measures in self-defense against the consequences of potential criminal acts perpetrated against them. In that case, Pope Francis said, "it was clear." In today’s turbulent world, perhaps there may be other similar instances in which this "clear" precedent might also apply. It is less clearly evident, however, how, if at all, it could apply to normal conjugal relations within marriage, where the issue is not self-defense against criminal activity but the prevention of disease. On the other hand, this is not exactly a new controversy. It has surfaced repeatedly in regard to the transmission of HIV. So however the discussion of this morally fraught topic goes, it is something which would inevitably have enormous ramifications for all concerned. Even the mere mention of it does!

But now that the issue is out there in this way in the media, presumably we can expect to hear a lot more about this. But, of course, complexity has seldom been the media's strength. And given the simultaneously sensationalist and superficial way religious issues tend to be covered in the media, we may expect to hear a lot - but not necessarily anything all that helpful.

Meanwhile, let's all hope for more successful mosquito control and medical progress toward a vaccine for preventing this terrible disease. That really would be helpful!

No comments:

Post a Comment