Monday, October 13, 2003

Proportionalism actually forbids contraception!


I was poking around the Thomist website and came across a wonderful article by Christopher Kaczor called "Proportionalism and the Pill: How Developments in Theory Lead to Contradictions to Practice." (The Thomist 63 (1999): 269-281)

Proportionalism is a moral theory developed in the last forty years solely to justify the use of contraception. What it says, in a nutshell, is that in certain situations one may choose an intrinsically evil act in order to achieve a greater good. Proportionalists take their starting point from Aquinas' theory of self-defense, which is justified on the grounds of double effect. So they argue that contraception can be done in order to avoid any evils that would come with the pregnancy, much as a person may kill an attacker if necessary in order to defend one's own life.

Now, the first and obvious objection to proportionalism is that lots of things seem to be morally justifiable; one can always come up with a good (proportionate) reason to do something intrinsically evil. For example, I could assassinate a political leader to avoid a future dictatorship, I could sterilize those of low intelligence to avoid dumb people, or I could even kill Jews for the sake of social unity in Germany. How is that anything is ever wrong for proportionalists?

In order to combat these puzzles, proportionalists have come up with various principles to rule out the possibilities I give above. The problem which Kaczor brilliantly points out is that these principles, if followed consistently, rule out almost all cases of contraception. Further, they specify that the only permissible contraceptive would be NFP.

One condition is that there must be a necessary causal relationship between the evil chosen and the good desired. We can, perhaps, choose abortion to save the life of the mother (in ectopic pregnancies) because the termination of the pregnancy leads directly to the good. We can't frame a criminal to avoid a riot (like Pilate did with Jesus) because the act of framing doesn't necessarily lead to quelling the riot. But let's take a closer look: contraception is often justified by appealing to financial problems or family difficulties. But having a baby doesn't necessarily lead to financial problems of family difficulties. Thus by proportionalism's own principle, most cases of contraception are ruled out.

Kaczor goes into much more detail, and I don't just want to reproduce his article--go subscribe to the Thomist and read it yourself. But one last example will be good. Proportionalists are committed to the principle that one only cause as much evil as necessary to achieve the desired end, and no more. But all methods of contraception cause more evil than necessary to achieve the end. Read the label on the Pill: there are lots and lots of damaging side effects. IUD's can perforate the uterus. Sterilization can cause ectopic pregnancies. In other words, the conventional methods of contraception are like using a shotgun to part your hair. They do more evil than necessary.

But there is a method of avoiding pregnancy that does no evil: Natural Family Planning. The failure rate is very low, there are no side effects, no costs (other than a thermometer), and indeed there are good effects on the marriage itself, as husband and wife must learn to value each other in ways separate from sex. Kaczor says If one is required to choose the greater good or the lesser evil in avoiding pregnancy, NFP is obligatory and contraception impermissible. (p. 277)

What a wonderfully devastating article!

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