Bishop's Blog

Condoms and Vaccinations

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

A former CFL football player was recently found guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault for having unprotected sex with two women without telling them he has HIV.

Public health directives such as “Sex Can Kill: Use Condoms” apparently didn’t make much of an impression on him. He faces a long jail term and his wife and children will have to deal with the long term fallout from his infidelity and irresponsibility.

Did he know that although the correct, consistent use of condoms offers some degree of protection against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that are transmitted by fluids, condoms do not prevent the spread of the two most common STDs, human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital herpes?

Did he understand that even with barrier protection, having a new sexual partner that has had other partners is potentially “high risk” sexual behaviour?”

Did he care?

Given the serious long term health problems that STDs present to individuals over their life span and rising infection rates, it is critical that questions be raised and current strategies be reevaluated.

Since risky sexual activity places adolescents at significant risk, physicians, educators, and governing bodies have sought to impact escalating rates of disease by promoting various strategies aimed at reducing risk.

These strategies have, for the most part, focussed on preventing the spread of disease through the use of barrier protection in the form of the condom.

Two major reasons account for the limited success of this approach despite extensive “safe sex” and “safer sex” campaigns.

First of all, condoms provide only limited protection against “skin-to skin” contact and “skin to sore” sexually transmitted diseases and currently there is no cure for viral STDs, such as HPV, genital herpes, and HIV/AIDS.

Secondly, although condoms offer some protection against discharge-related infections such as HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea, protection may be compromised by compliance issues, incorrect use, or mechanical failures.

Given the lack of protection of the condom against the spectrum of STDs and the unsuccessful attempts to achieved sustained compliance, the approval of Merck & Co’s vaccine, Gardasil, was greeted with near “salvific” excitement.

Merck’s marketing strategy has been resourceful, timely and tapped into some deep fears.

Reported parental reaction in the media has been supportive, with comments such as “I’d be in favour of anything that prevents anyone from having to fight any kind of cancer” and “The kids all think they’re so immortal, especially the younger ones. They’re the ones who often think they can get away with unprotected sex.”

Predictably, some medical practitioners jumped on the bandwagon and quickly proposed that every 9 to 13 year old girl in the country should be vaccinated against the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Furthermore, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization says that girls and women aged 14 to 26 should also be vaccinated against human papillomavirus even if they are already sexually active because they may not have yet been infected.

Seemingly, the big question now is “who will pay?” Girls must receive the injection three times for it to be effective, totalling a cost of $405 per patient.

Rather than ask, “who should pay?”, we would be further ahead to address the primary behaviour that predisposes individuals to sexually acquired infections.

Parents, physicians, educators, and governing bodies should adopt a health oriented approach that addresses sexual attitudes and behaviours recommending delayed genital sexual activity and partner reduction.

One of the national health objectives for 2010 developed by the US Department of Health and Human services is “to increase ... the proportion of adolescents in grades 9-12 who have never had sexual intercourse.”

Parents must take responsibility for playing a role in the promotion of healthy lifestyles. Parents need to promote ongoing dialogue with their pre-teen and teenage offspring about relationships and sexuality. Through teaching, active monitoring of social and other activities, and giving overt guidance regarding appropriate and safe dating relationships, they need to protect their offspring from counterproductive influences and potential abuse.

Teens are relentlessly bombarded with sexual messages and imagery in media, entertainment, advertising, and in some types of music. Although it is difficult to objectively quantify the full impact of sexual imagery, we are all aware of the impact of popular culture on both behaviour and self-image. Consider, for example, the demands for cosmetic procedures such as breast enlargements, liposuction, collagen implants, and buttock enhancement.

We need to move beyond a societal preoccupation with appearance, image and measuring up to an artificially created supposed ideal; teach critical thinking skills; provide guidelines as needed; and teach right from wrong.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Contraception Catholic Teachings Married Life Natural Family Planning Family

No Middle Ground

“At its core, the issue of embryonic stem-cell research forces us to confront fundamental questions about the beginnings of life and the ends of science,” President George W. Bush said in a recent address.

The President announced in his speech that he had concluded that federal funds could be used for research on more than 60 genetically diverse stem-cell lines that already exist, where the life-death decision has already been made. These cell lines were created from embryos that have already been destroyed, and the have the ability to regenerate themselves indefinitely.

He went on to add that this allows us to explore the promise and potential of stem-cell research without crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos that have “at least the potential for human life.”

The President also opposed human cloning, and he supported aggressive federal funding of research on umbilical cord, placenta, adult and animal stem cells which do not involve the same moral dilemma as embryonic human stem cells.

“As the discoveries of modern science create tremendous hope, they also lay vast ethical minefields.” What are some of those minefields?

The moral problem is framed in large measure by in vitro fertilization. The typical in vitro fertilization procedure involves the production of more embryos than will be implanted in the mother. Those that are not immediately placed within the womb are placed in frozen storage. Once the fertility program has been completed, the clinic will ask parents what they want to do with their “left-over” embryos. Do they want to continue to pay to have them kept in storage, or would they prefer to have them thrown away, or given to science to for research?

In discussing these questions there are a number of facts that we have to keep in mind:

First of all, the materials kept in frozen storage are human beings. They are not just fertilized eggs or random collection of cells. They are whole human organisms that have resulted from the union of the husbands’ sperm and the wife’s ovum (normal and best case scenario). These frozen human embryos contain a full set of human chromosomes. They are human beings at a very early stage of embryological development. Whether or not one is a human being does not depend upon size or one’s location in the physical world.

Secondly, these human embryos are alive. They are not “potential” human life. They are precisely what human beings look like at that point of their lives. Freezing an embryo does not kill it, but merely arrests its development.

(As an aside, for those who accept in vitro fertilization, would not the better solution be to research method of freezing ova? This would eliminate the creation of additional embryos and their subsequent freezing, which is contrary to their human dignity and puts them at risk for subsequent research. In this way there would be an end to the corrosive link between in vitro fertilization and the destruction of human life.)

Thirdly, this form of research would allow the embryos to be stripped of their cells and their integrity, reducing them from a subject to an object, from a human being with dignity to a source of organic material.

Fourthly, the difficulties are compounded when human embryos are created solely for the purposes of research. Therapeutic cloning is an additional affront to human dignity. Scientists have long recognized that the principle that no experimental or research procedure should be conducted on human subjects if it provides no direct benefit or if the risks to the subject are inordinately great. In the case of human embryo experimentation, not only is there no direct benefit to the subject, but the embryos is directly killed. This cannot be done for whatever reason, even in view of the possibility that it might provide advances in science and medicine that would benefit others.

No amount of public benefit can ever justify the deliberate killing of a human being. The argument is particularly hollow when the same results could be achieved by alternate means such as the use of adult stem cells or the stem cells derived from umbilical cords or placentas. Such research would have no ethical complications and has already shown highly promising results.

No human being, including the embryo, should ever be used as a means to an end; no human being should be considered as “surplus” or “spare.” It is always wrong to destroy another human being even to help another. Both the means and the objective must be good; there is no middle ground. We cannot kill in the name of science.

President Bush has elevated the public ethical debate on the issue of stem cell research and attempted to find the middle of the road by setting some limits, i.e. by only granting funding for research on existing stem cell lines, “here the life and death decision has already been made.”

Nevertheless, his position is not without moral difficulties. We must remember that the existing stem cell lines have been obtained by the deliberate destruction of human embryos for the sake of research. Such funding has already been declared “insufficient” by some, that there are relatively few existing lines and they eventually degrade, and that the existing guidelines must be broadened and expanded. It short, the door has been opened for further legitimation of the destruction of now-living embryos.

We would do well to keep in mind the words of the Psalmist: “You created my inmost self, knit me together in my mother’s womb. For so many marvels I thank you; a won-der am I, and all your works are wonders.” [Ps.139:13-14]

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Health Care Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Contraception Health Care Infertility Married Life Life Issues IVF Marriage Preparation Natural Family Planning

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