Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All This Hoo-Ha About The Pill....

....and why it sort of makes me ill.

First of all, let me say that I support the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception.

With that out of the way, I have a bone to pick.

The Church's teaching against contraception is rooted in theological and philosophical reasoning.  The idea is that sexual intercourse's dual roles of uniting a couple in love and procreation should not be de-linked.  This idea would hold whether or not Natural Family Planning had been discovered and whether or not hormonal contraceptives were healthy for women.

So, let's talk about all the hoo-ha going on concerning The Pill.

Within the Catholic Church these days, there is much interest in educating people about contraception.  With the advent of more effective methods of Natural Family Planning and Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Catholic clergy and educators around the globe are making a renewed effort to tell people about the beautiful ideas embodied in the Church's philosophy of sexuality.  And this is lovely.

But, the issue I have is this.  In their great enthusiasm for supporting the Church's teaching, many Catholic people have been speaking a lot about the dangers of birth control pills, especially the breast cancer risk associated with them.  Now, I have been doing a little research, and I have discovered some thought-provoking things.

For example, on the website of the National Cancer Institute (at the National Institutes of Health), various studies on the cancer risks of The Pill are discussed.  Here are a few interesting points (all emphases mine):
     1.  A number of studies suggest that the use of oral contraceptives appears to SLIGHTLY increase the risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women.  However, the risk level goes back to normal 10 years or more after discontinuing oral contraceptive use.  In addition, in one study, breast cancers that were diagnosed in women who had stopped using oral contraceptives for 10 or more years were LESS advanced than breast cancers diagnosed in women who had NEVER used oral contraceptives.  And a more recent study showed a SLIGHT increase in the breast cancer risk in women who almost all took a SPECIFIC TYPE of birth control pill -- called the triphasic pill (so, apparently, the cancer risk is not equal for all types of contraceptive pills).
     2.  Women who use oral contraceptives have REDUCED risks of ovarian and endometrial cancer.  This protective effect actually increases with the length of time oral contraceptives are used. 
     3.  Oral contraceptive use is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer.  But, this may be because sexually active women have a higher risk of being infected with the human papillomavirus, which causes virtually all cervical cancers.

What is my point here?  My point is that some people who have influence in the Catholic world seem to be exaggerating the dangers of oral contraceptive use in order to entice people to be more open to the Church's teachings.  And I don't think this is either fair or effective.  Catholic thought can stand on its own -- as Catholic thought.  We are just undermining it if we misrepresent scientific studies to support our position.  Also, in the end, if people do their own research, they may just feel that they have been misled by the Church, causing them to throw the proverbial baby out with the proverbial bath water.

If you are a Catholic, and if you agree with the Church's position on contraception, good for you.  I am here to support you.  And in supporting you, I am not going to tell you that practicing this teaching is going to be easy.  At times, it may be very difficult -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.  As my sister said recently:  "If life didn't involve suffering, Jesus would have just skipped over the cross and gone directly to the resurrection."

One other concern I have is this.  There may be valid health reasons (not contraceptive reasons) for a woman to take The Pill for a period of time.  And frightening her with misleading information may cause her to make decisions which undermine her well-being.  I will give an example from my own life.  After the birth of my third child, I suffered terrible hormonal problems, which caused me to feel sick most of the time -- physically, as well as mentally.  I told my very wise doctor how I was feeling -- about 9 months out from my child's birth -- and he told me that he was going to put me on The Pill for a while, because that would level out my hormones and get rid of my icky symptoms.  Did it work?  You bet it did.  Within a month, I was feeling good again and my ability to take proper care of my family was restored.  I didn't take The Pill for that long, but when I did go off of it, my cycle and my overall health were restored.

So, when we talk about the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception, let's talk about it in its purity.  What the teaching really is, the wisdom of it theologically and philosophically.  There is no need to misrepresent or exaggerate scientific studies.  Because the Church's teaching will probably remain the same, even if some totally perfect, totally healthy contraceptive is discovered or invented. 

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