SIR,—Fr. Haering's comments as stated by you are rather confusing especially when he asserts "the pill under discussion (in 1958) was of the Enovid type
. . " In the opinion of Fr. Haering "present-day gynaecologists do not regard the modern pill as a mere sterilising agent and their authoritative opinion cannot be overlooked".
But surely we have never regarded the pill as a "mere sterilising agent" but as a substance which can also be used therapeutically. The pill under discussion at the time of Pius XII (the Enovid type) was, from the moral and medical aspects, capable of being used in two ways, i.e., contraceptively and therapeutically. If it was used contraceptively, it was morally unacceptable. If it was used therapeutically it was quite clearly acceptable on the principle of totality and the double effect.
Nor is there anything new in the distinction alleged to have been made by Fr. Haering between the older type of contraception condemned by Pius XI and the pill when used contraeeplively and which is under discussion at the present moment.
The first deliberately deprives the matrimonial act of its natural power, whereas in the case of the pill (used contraceptively) there is a direct attack on a healthy faculty over which we have merely stewardship and not full ownership. It has been stated by Pius XII that if a function is in no way diseased or in no way. here and now, threatening the entire body, it is had administration to remove, destroy, or deliberately suppress them. We are not justified in mutilating ourselves unless the action here and now promotes the good of the whole body -ever here certain conditions must be fulfilled.
I am at a loss. therefore, as to Fr. Haering's alleged statement that the modern pill 1..ust not be looked upon "as a mere sterilising agent", and also as to the impression that is given of distinguishing between the pill of Pius XII's time and those of 1964. From the moral aspect, at any rate, there is no difference in the principles and their application. Pius XII stated in October 1951. that direct sterilsation, whether used as a means or as an end in itself, whether permanent or temporary, was unlawful. In 1958 he defined direct sterilsation as the act of one who proposes as a means or an end to make procreation impossible. He clearly realised and taught that direct sterilisation whether it was caused surgically or physiologically came to the same thing. In both cases the intention and the action were directly aimed at blocking the ovum.
One was caused by tying up the fallopian tubes the other by directly stopping ovulation. In both cases the intention was the same, viz., to block the ovum for the sake of preventing procreation.
Pius XII also made the point that the pills of his time like the pills of our time could be used for a good purpose, "if they are taken as medicine not in order to prevent conception but ... as a necessary remedy for a disease of the uterus or the organism — here an indirect sterilisation is caused which may he allowed on the principle of the double effect".
The side effect of sterility is tolerated as an unavoidable byproduct, and not directly intended.
It has often been said that we are guilty of hair-splitting in the case of direct and indirect sterilisation where the intention of the person is so very important. And yet even in our Civil Courts the situation is accepted as quite clear especially in such things as accidental death, manslaughter and murder.
The .statement of our Bishops is quite clear, just as the statements of Pius XII were lucid and helpful. The pill is, from the moral point of view, neutral, just like aspirins and morphine — it cai be used for different purposes, health, suicide etc. It depends on why and how you use it.
While there are still certain questions which are open such as sterility and lactation and on which informed opinions and surmise are welcome and permissible. the voice of our Bishops is obligatory on all of us regarding the issue as stated above by Pius XT, Pius XII, not to mention the Hierarchy of Holland.
(Father) Patrick O'Mahoney