Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why The Pope Is DEAD WRONG About Condoms

It's not like Pope Ratzinger hasn't been swatted around already for his statements about condom use in Africa, but then again, today I spotted a story on BBC's website that puts the whole tragedy into into human terms.

Zenthu lives in a shack where she sleeps in the same room as her father and adult older brothers. She says that they are often drunk and sometimes there is no food for the family in the evenings.

The moment I ask her about her mother she bursts into tears, sobbing and sobbing.
...
Her mother gave birth to her baby sister two years ago, but months later still looked pregnant.
...
Despite the presence of other adults in the household, the care for both the new baby and her dying mother fell to Zenthu, then just 12 years old.

She began skipping school to tend to her mother.

Eventually, in Zenthu's words her mother "succumbed to the excruciating pains".

She had died from HIV/Aids. One in three pregnant mothers in some townships has the virus - so everyone must surely know someone with HIV. But the stigma means it is not discussed.


Imagine being twelve, and being the primary caregiver to the person who brought you into this world. Watching her wither away and die day by day - slowly and painfully.

Why? Because she had sex with someone who was HIV+...whether or not they knew it.

What's worse, is that the tragedy repeats itself with the next generation:

Or perhaps once they have been orphaned they are more likely to develop relationships with older men who can give them clothes and mobile phone time, but whose age makes them more likely to have HIV.

Or that without their parents' protection they might be more vulnerable to rape, a crime so common that some mothers living in the townships take their daughters to have long-lasting contraceptive injections at the age of 12 or 13, not because they think they're going to choose to have sex, but because the likelihood they'll be raped is so high.


Think about these things a bit. The dogmatic insistence of the Pope on "abstinence" is rooted in some fantasy world where everybody follows the same rules. Out in the real world, it's a much harsher, grittier picture. Condoms are a necessary part of the fight against HIV/AIDS, just like realistic sex education is. Sticking your head in the sand isn't going to do it.

Unfortunately, people in Africa are dying, and because old men in cassocks don't want to face the reality of that situation, simple things that could be done are being suppressed. This isn't just wrong, it's a moral failing far beyond that which they are so quick to criticize others for.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, "....old men in cassocks...". I have to wonder if the only reason that they preach abstinence only, is that they are unable to 'get it up' anymore, and they're jealous of those who can.

SB

Anonymous said...

The Nasti Pope's refusal to approve condoms will some day be seen a the GREATEST CRIME AGAINT HUMANITY.

Cardinal Pole said...

"I have to wonder if the only reason that they preach abstinence only, is that they are unable to 'get it up' anymore, and they're jealous of those who can."

Ahhh, it's nice to be back in the gutter. I've missed you, MgS, SB (initialisms seem popular here, so just call me CP if you prefer).

"The Nasti Pope's refusal to approve condoms will some day be seen a the GREATEST CRIME AGAINT HUMANITY."

Someone's attempt at self-satire?!

“Because she had sex with someone who was HIV+...whether or not they knew it.”

You don’t seriously recommend that people have sex with people who could have H.I.V./A.I.D.S. do you, regardless of whether or not there’s a thin slip of latex between them?

“the tragedy repeats itself with the next generation”

No it doesn’t; the next two paragraphs are about paedophilia/rape, so the tragedy hasn’t ‘repeated itself’, it’s been inflicted completely against the will of the victims.

“The dogmatic insistence of the Pope on "abstinence" is rooted in some fantasy world where everybody follows the same rules.”

So rapists should play by your rules and make sure to wear condoms when they rape people? Come on, MgS, are you talking about rape or consensual sex here? Make up your mind.

The question has to be asked: would you ever have sex with someone who might be infected with a deadly, contagious disease, MgS?

MgS said...

Welcome back, your snideness.

Sadly, I see that you still don't get it, do you?

The issue is that the Pope's stubborn intransigence is rooted in dogma, not reality.

Condoms do reduce disease transmission. Therefore, as part of the overall picture, they are an important part of reducing the rate of transmission.

Reduce the rate of transmission, and hopefully - in a generation or two - the odds of being raped by someone HIV+ would drop.

Unfortunately, while the Pope has a legitimate point in arguing that sexuality bears with it responsibility, he fails to acknowledge the reality on the ground in Africa (especially), and instead clings to a dogma that will make a bad situation worse.

What's worse, is that he's clearly blind to the very human tragedy that is unfolding before his eyes - if he would but open them.

Cardinal Pole said...

"... your snideness."

Fair enough. But I actually am interested in understanding how secularists reason think these things out, so let's have a snideness truce. So, to your arguments:

"Condoms do reduce disease transmission."

More precisely though, one can only say that, all else equal, one would expect that on any given occasion the use of a condom will reduce the likelihood of a transmission occuring; nonetheless the chance of condom failure is by no means insignificant. Now if we confine our consideration to consensual relationships, on any given occasion there are three alternatives available for a couple in which one lover is H.I.V.-positive: (1) have sex using a condom, (2) have sex without using a condom, or, (3) don't have sex. What I am saying is: how could you ever advise someone to have sex with an H.I.V.-positive person when there is an alternative with no possibility of infection resulting, and when, in alternative (1), which is what you appear to advise, the evil of a potential infection with a deadly disease greatly outweighs the evil of the couple having to go without sex? This disproportion means that even in proportionalist ethics such a course of action would not be morally illicit.

But I can only assume that it's alternative (1) that you advocate, since you did not answer either of the questions that I put to you regarding this. You've invoked the real-life experience of these A.I.D.S.-ravaged townships in Africa, so imagine you're the mother of a daughter in such a township. She tells you that she she wants to take her relationship with her boyfried to the next level, but there's a problem: he's H.I.V.-positive. But he's promised to use a condom, so it's alright then is it, Mum? (And I do not mean that to sound snide; I'm just trying to set the scene as clearly as possible.) What would you advise? Catholic ethics (and, as I've shown, even proportionalist ethics) can only ever advise alternative (3), and this is logically unassailable.

"Therefore, as part of the overall picture ..."

But what is this mythical 'overall picture' that everyone speaks of? The spread of A.I.D.S. at the level of society is only the sum of its parts, as it were; it is only the aggregate of its spread at the level of each individual, so if the decision is irrational at the level of the individual, which it certainly is, then it's irrational at the level of society. And you cannot deny that there is credible empirical evidence that this is true; surely you have heard what Prof. Green has to say on these matters?

"he fails to acknowledge the reality on the ground in Africa (especially)"

The reality on the ground in Africa is that there are fundamental differences between its experience and the experience of Western countries, where A.I.D.S. mainly affects homosexuals, and in countries like Thailand, where it mainly affects prostitutes. See the following piece by Prof. Green (it's from a Catholic discussion board, but it's in his own words, in which he makes clear that he is not opposed ideologically to condoms):

http://members7.boardhost.com/CathPews/msg/1238743161.html

"instead clings to a dogma that will make a bad situation worse."

Again, read what Prof. Green has to say, if not at that Catholic link then by Google. And you simply cannot dispute that alternative (3) is the only logical alternative to advise; the fact that (1) might be the lesser of evil of (1) and (2) doesn't change the fact that (3) is still the lesser of all available evils. And if it only makes sense to advise (3) for any individual then, by my earlier reasoning, it only makes sense to advise it at the level of government public health campaigns as well.

"he's clearly blind to the very human tragedy that is unfolding before his eyes"

Now this final charge is simply preposterous--you think your connections to Africa are stronger that those available to His Holiness?--and it's nonsense like this that makes people like me question your good will.

MgS said...

What I am saying is: how could you ever advise someone to have sex with an H.I.V.-positive person when there is an alternative with no possibility of infection resulting, and when, in alternative (1), which is what you appear to advise

Once again, you do a lovely job of inserting words into my mouth - and getting it horribly wrong.

My point is this - sex happens. All the time. The advocacy around condom use is not "use condoms and don't worry" - nor has it ever been, nor have I claimed that it is.

What I object to is the blind opposition to providing condoms that comes out of Rome. In situations where something like HIV is endemic - as it is in Africa - the condom is one of the few options for minimizing the risks, especially in situations where a partner may not have an ideal history.

With respect to your hypothetical scenario, I'm not stupid. I would want my daughter to use a condom for obvious reasons if she had sex. However, my advocacy to her would be to abstain. The point is that she should have the knowledge of and access to the alternatives. It is naive in the extreme to think that youth will not explore their sexuality.

As for the "but condoms fail" argument, that's no better a reason than the old saw about it being safer in some accidents to be thrown clear instead of wearing a seatbelt. In the greater proportion of cases, the benefit far outweights the risk.

The utterances of the Pope on the matter of condoms are rigid application of dogma - and blind to the practical realities of human sexuality.

Cardinal Pole said...

"The utterances of the Pope on the matter of condoms are rigid application of dogma"

So let's get back to what His Holiness says. He said that condoms can in fact worsen the spread of H.I.V. Harvard-employed Prof. Green's evidence backs this up. More importantly though: the Holy Father does not exhort people to have sex with H.I.V. positive people without using a condom. He advises them not to have sex with such people at all. Now what is your objection to this? You will say something like 'but ifthey are going to have sex, then they should use a condom'. But this 'if' does not not exist, because there is always the third option--just don't have sex with H.I.V.-positive people.

"As for the "but condoms fail" argument, that's no better a reason than the old saw about it being safer in some accidents to be thrown clear instead of wearing a seatbelt. In the greater proportion of cases, the benefit far outweights the risk."
(my emphasis)

But this is a bad analogy, because in the case of condomised sex with an H.I.V.-positive person the risk always outweighs the benefit--one night's pleasure is utterly insignificant in comparison to an agonising, premature death.

MgS said...

Bull, Cardinal.

I note several key things:

(1) I cannot find a citation for Green's comments outside of opinion pieces. To me, that's right up there with taking Dr. Paul McHugh's position on transsexuality seriously.

(2) With respect to the use of condoms, remember that it is not uncommon for people infected with HIV to not be aware of their infection. A different set of ethics start to apply when someone is aware of being HIV+, but in a region where access to testing is limited, there is a significantly higher chance of someone being infected and not aware. Last I checked, in such circumstances, condoms are one of the last lines of defense.

(3) I continue to hold that the church's position on condom use is deeply flawed, in part because it leads the church to prohibit even talking about them. To the extent of demanding that parishoners not donate to organizations which provide that information. This is nothing less than an attempt to enforce ignorance.

(4) Lastly, as much as you can jump up and down, demanding that everybody be ideally celibate before marriage and entirely faithful within marriage, that is dogma, not reality. People finagle around all the time - heck, the Catholic Church created "indulgences" so that those wealthy enough could "buy" their way out.