Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Can Catholics get vasectomies?

Alternately titled: things that go 'snip snip'

There seems to be a lot of interest in Catholic s-e-x despite the sad reality that few practicing Catholics are actually, um, practicing what is preached (or what too frequently isn't preached in far too many parishes around the world.) So on the heels of this wildly popular instructable on how to 'do' birth control as a Catholic (hint: don't) I thought we could talk about something else really fun and totally appropriate to discuss on the internet with strangers: vasectomies.

Okay, maybe we'll talk about tubal ligations, too.

Fun fact: I was actually offered a tubal at the 'catholic' hospital we delivered John Paul Francis in (oh the irony) when he was about, oh, 4 hours old. It wasn't the first birth control option they threw out there for me to consider but the fact that it was even on the table when I, at age 29, had just popped out my second healthy child was, quite frankly, baffling. I mean sure, I bled a little more than was polite in the final stage of labor but come on, you want to spay me after two kids? I hadn't even 'gotten' my girl yet. Sheesh, people. 

Anyway, back to the riveting topic du jour: bodily mutilation. For that, gentle reader, is precisely what takes place when a section of woman's fallopian tubes or a man's vas deferens are either cauterized/removed/severed. First off I'd like to give a big old shout out to GROSS because hi, when I have parts of my body cauterized, it usually means something has gone very, very wrong.

Secondly, does anyone find it curious that in a culture where infertility is such a mysterious billion dollar industry where few medical professionals care to take the time to examine the root causes, we're more than happy to snip, clip, or remove those perfectly healthy, properly functioning parts once a couple/individual has decided "welp, we're all done using that. So long, bodily system."

I mean, can you imagine if any other piece of the complex puzzle of the human anatomy was simply removed for 'working too well'? I know, I know, spleens...and appendixes. But come on, those are always taken in times of disease or illness. Can anyone name one other instance in which we attack a healthy body part and dispose of it because we're tired of it functioning properly?

So I digress, because that's not the reason the Church opposes sterilization as a form of contraception. I mean sure, it's a part of it, the whole 'your body is a temple' concept and the human person being created in the image and likeness of God, but really, the practice of sterilization is condemned for the same reason any other means of contraception is: it fundamentally damages the relationship between the created human person and the Creator.

It's the same, tired, ages old attempt of man to try to "know better" than God. And in so doing, in trying to 'know,' he ends up self-harming.

Harming his body, harming his relationship to his spouse, and harming his relationship to his God.

Contraception is simply another effort in the long, tired litany of "I will not serves" that seeks to wrest control over life from God's hands into our own.

But another baby would kill me.

We can't afford to have any more kids.

I have a chronic, pregnancy-exacerbated disease.

My husband is cheating on me.

I'm not married.

I'm a college student.

And to all those valid, troubling, serious protestations, there is but one possible answer:

Don't have sex.

Seriously, that's the answer.

If there is some condition or circumstance so absolutely grave that to bring a child into it would be disastrous, then the only conceivable answer is to avoid the act which creates children. Because as with any other form of contraception, things can - and very often do - go wrong. Condoms break. Sperm get through. Pills fail to dispense enough estrogen. And sometimes, yes, even sometimes when surgical measures have been taken...life finds a way.

Life's like that, you know? Miraculous, sometimes. And utterly confounding. And the only realistic answer to the problem of "we definitely can't conceive right now" is "You definitely shouldn't be having sex right now." Because you know what must be available when people who 'definitely shouldn't get pregnant right now' get pregnant? Abortion. Abortion must be available to back up failed contraception. Maybe not for you personally, but for somebody. For a lot of somebodies.

50% of all abortions are performed on women who were using contraception when they conceived.

This is a hard teaching. Almost impossible, by our current culture's standards. Lots of Christianity is hard, though. The Eucharist. Immortality. A God made man, dwelling among us.

It's all had to swallow.

But what's the alternative?

Our culture would have us believe that sex is paramount to all other human experiences, that children are the ultimate inconvenience, that the body is the end all and be all of our existence, and that the only real path to happiness is paved with shiny toys.

And you know what? Our culture is effing miserable. Divorces. Broken marriages and broken families. Kids killing themselves, each other, their parents. Parents killing their kids. Spouses cheating on each other, sometimes with the explicit permission of the other spouse. And on and on.

Ain't none of what our culture's dishing making anybody truly happy. So why take sex advice from such a source?

Just because something is common doesn't make it normal. And just because something is popular doesn't make it right.

For more reading on this topic check out Humanae Vitae for yourself. Seriously. Even if you're not Catholic. Even if you've read it before. Read it again. Then look at the time stamp and let your jaw drop when you do the math.

Fifty years.

(A little post script: Some couples have pursued sterilization without full knowledge of the gravity of their actions -- maybe they weren't properly instructed in their faith, maybe their doctors gave them an ultimatum (sadly common) and maybe their own pastors urged them to take the step (even sadder), and, if this is the case, there is always room for reconciliation with God and with the Church. Even if the procedure is irreversible - which is not always the case! never hurts to ask - the human heart is, amazingly, always capable of true contrition and repentance. So please do not feel condemned by this information. Find a good confessor, make things right, and begin the path to rebuilding your relationship with your Father and with your spouse. It's NEVER too late to make things right.)


  1. I find it so VERY very unethical that hospitals offer (and often push) these sterilization procedures to newly post-partum women who are NOT in the position to make such a permanent decision. Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting.

    I have a 14-year-old student who told me she never wants to have kids and is just going to get "some operation" so that she can never get pregnant. Thank goodness 14-year-olds aren't actually allowed to make such permanent decisions, but it wouldn't surprise me if "they" weren't working on lowering the age of consent for these unnecessary procedures so that that sweet young 14-year-old who "never wants kids" can just get it taken care of right away and never worry about an unplanned pregnancy!

    1. Sadly with the new health care there was at least 1 state considering covering sterilizations starting at age FIFTEEN. Did anyone else hear about this? Maybe Washington? It was on my fb feed a lot sometime 6-12 months ago. Awful. ...also a natural consequence of the thinking laid out here. :(

  2. Last week at the playground I struck up a conversations with another mom there who was a complete stranger to me. I was swinging Sara and she asked if I knew what I was having and I told her boy. And she said "Good! Get it over with. My husband's home on the couch right now, icing himself, wink wink." I literally had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I didn't even know this woman's name! I made some lame remarks about hoping for more, ect ect, but I was just so shocked by the rudeness and sadness of the whole situation, I didn't handle it very well! I've been praying for her ever since, though.

    1. Seriously! I can't count the number of women (and even men!?!) who bring up their own or their spouse's sterilizations as if it's part of a normal conversation to be having with someone you just met. They usually just smile and laugh like it's no big deal and I never know what to say, especially since it's often complete strangers or new acquaintances. I don't want to lecture someone I don't know very well or push them away, but I also don't want them to think I agree--I'm afraid I never handle it very well either! Usually I give a confused "oh" with a sad/concerned/shocked face as I try to think of something intelligent to say and then the moment's passed and I spend the rest of the day thinking of all of the wise and profound things I should have said :)

  3. If OB's snip, clip or remove our properly functioning reproductive parts they're out of a job.....makes logical sense to encourage more baby's not prevent them.

  4. Amen! Love your blog, so happy to have something like this to read daily.

  5. Humanae Vitae was instrumental in my husband's and my reversion back to our faith. As cradle Catholics we had no idea the gravity of what we had done when my husband had his vasectomy. Since his reversal 5 years ago we have welcomed 3 more babies and for a total of 6 kids now. So happy to be right with God! Happy to have found your blog too!

  6. After Wells was born, they gave me a paper to check off 'what kind of birth control' I wanted. 'None' wasn't even an option. I actually had to write it down and explain the the nurse that I really didnt want any. It is sad that we live in a culture that pushes it so hard

  7. I wanted to comment as we (faithful Catholics) are dealing with this very question right now. I have had seven c-sections, the last resulting from an in-labor uterine rupture. We have agonized for months under the guidance of our priest and our Catholic doctor and we will be having my tubes tied very shortly. I'm 33 and the risks are very very great. The Church does make allowances for (grave) situations like ours, I will note, where the risks of getting pregnant and again delivering are quite quite great. Love your perspective, though - it's a crazy important one for people to hear.

    1. J & A, I am sorry for the ordeal you have gone through, and I ask this question sincerely (not to antagonize): What evidence have you been provided that the Church makes allowances for grave situations like yours? I have always heard and read that a medical act to treat a condition is allowable even if it has a secondary effect of making one infertile, but have never read of the Church's acceptance of an act where the primary effect is to create that infertility. If there is such documentation you can refer to (and not simply the words of someone who is trying to be 'pastoral'), I would be very interested to read it.

      Also, what is your view of the author's point, that if you cannot risk getting pregnant, don't have sex? You mention it is a crazy important one, but then your testimony (and I could be missing something) seems to indicate you either don't really believe it or that you do not think it is possible.

    2. I'm so sorry for your situation - I know this is very difficult. I just want to add that I have a very good friend who had the same situation - uterine rupture during delivery after multiple c-sections. She almost died. The doctor also advised no more pregnancies, but she and her husband opted to not undergo sterilization. She had a subsequent pregnancy and with proper medical management was able to successfully carry the baby to term and deliver with no complications. They are very carefully practicing NFP now and that last baby is 4 years old. Prayers for you, your situation and your discernment.

    3. The Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska offers over-the-phone ethical consultations, which I have used (after I suffered an ectopic pregnancy in December 2013) and found infinitely helpful & beneficial for very challenging situations.

    4. I don't qualify at this point for a complete hysterectomy, yet my uterus cannot sustain another pregnancy. We were told our options were to get pregnant again, the child would inevitably die and then I would have due cause for a hysterectomy (and sterilization) or to remove the fallopian tubes preemptively. After our last child died in labor due to the complications of rupture, this was a heart-wrenching set of information to process. We did use the Pope Paul VI Institute consultation as well, which I do highly recommend to anyone facing extenuating procreative circumstances.


    5. J & A - I love that you're responding to all these comments and providing information about your circumstances. Thank you for that. Again - your situation is awful and I can't even imagine being in your shoes. Prayers for you - especially that you have peace about whatever you decide is right for you and your family.

  8. I used to try to soft-sell the reasons my wife and I want more kids (we have two daughters). For example, "We want a large family", "My family was large and it was such a good thing; so much fun and joy", etc. After reflecting on why these reasons never seemed to satisfy me or cause the other person to think much on them, I came to the sobering conclusion that my reasons were simply manifestations of the modern world's values of "do what you want" and "life is all about fun and making yourself happy". My explanations for wanting a large family reflected those same two values. I just went about practicing them in a different way than most.

    So I decided to change my response. At work, after being asked if we were done having kids, I used what I had heard comedian Jim Gaffigan say: "I can't think of a good reason to not have more." This prompted my co-workers to kindly provide those "reasons". Now this is where I needed courage from God: my response was to show that each reason was either A) selfish or B) demeaning to the value of human life. Just two examples:

    When someone mentioned not being able to play on traveling teams due to being from a large family and wanting to give their "one to two" kids a chance to do so, my response was "Which of your siblings do you wish had not been born so that you could play on a traveling team?"

    In a conversation with an engaged co-worker, they said they would rather have money to travel instead of children and joked they were probably more selfish than I was. I responded "In this matter, yes you are, and you may want to re-evaluate whether you are ready for marriage. Marriage requires sacrifice just like having children does, and if you are not willing to sacrifice in order to have children, are you going to be willing to put forth the sacrifices for your future spouse?"

    These responses threw my co-workers for a loop. It was not was they expected, and so in each case, it led to a deeper conversation about what love means and the lenses through which we view life. (Warning: non-PC approved comment coming up) Also, perhaps because I am a guy, cutting right to the chase instead of soft-selling made me feel that I was being more honest with them and helped me converse more effectively.

  9. We have some very good friends who had 4 children (including a set of twins) very close together. The wife opted for a tubal ligation - they were not Catholic. They subsequently converted and even though several priests told them that reversal was not necessary or expected, given the conversion circumstances, it really weighed on them. They waited two years after they became Catholic before they decided to do the surgery. They had to travel two states away to find a doctor who would even do the surgery - a Catholic physician in another state. There was no guarantee that the reversal would work - but they did it anyway, just for their own peace of mind. They ended up with two more babies, because one tube was successfully opened. Two babies that would not be here, if they hadn't followed their hearts on this issue. Life WILL find a way!

  10. I'm taking this to Kinkos where I think they can make me a handy little pocket manual to hand out to people when they proclaim, "alls well with the world because I've just been fixed." *snip-snip* Unfortunately, I hear this all too often from people and always walk away wishing I was as humorous, articulate and succinct with my answers as you are! Thanks for throwing me a line! :)

  11. I could and probably should comment on every.single.post you've written. My heart literally jumps a beat when my inbox tells me that 'Mama needs coffee" has a new post. Seriously, posts like these make me go "wow" and push me even harder to 1) know, inside and out, what the church teaches and 2) learn how to articulate what I've learned to the masses in a charitable and loving way. Thank you Jenny @ Mama Needs Coffee...thank you! You have a true gift with words and I hope to meet you at the Edel Gathering! :) :) :)

  12. Hi Jenny, having enjoyed your blog for some time now, and feeling like we are kindred souls in many ways, I just passed on to you the “chain letter” called a Catholic Writer’s Award – see my post at http://leazsingh.blogspot.ca/2014/05/catholic-writers-award.html

  13. I made the decision (to remain abstinent) after my reversion to my Catholic faith in my mid-20's. The hurt and pain of being sexually active in superficial and transient relationships actually led to my reversion. When I went to the gynecologist to have my IUD removed, she was horrified and shocked I was opting not to have any birth control at all. She really disapproved, and let me know it (Her: "How, exactly, ARE you going to prevent pregnancy?????" Me: "By not having sex." Her: Pffftttt!) Anyway, I decided to forgo all birth control because I realized by having it available, I was MORE likely to weaken and succumb than if I had no means of protection. Confessing all my past sexual escapades further strengthened my resolve. By he grace of God I have been able to remain celibate, for these past 25 years, and have found I have recovered my previous sense of boundaries and innocence. Sex is not the end all and be all of life. And abstinence IS possible. And a clear conscience certainly makes sleep much more restful.

    1. Bee, you are AWESOME! What a terrific testimony. God is glorified in your words!

  14. What a great straight-talking post on this topic. Love it!

  15. Drop the mic.

    But seriously, this spoke to my heart. I want everyone to read it.

  16. Jenny, on the topic of self mutilation: do you have any insight on the Church's teachings on cases of preventative mastectomies? This is something I've heard about more and more recently. Also, what about circumcision? It seems that if you can justify one, you can the other. However, if they are justifiable, why do I have this nagging that they are not?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. (I edited my comment a bit, sorry its long winded. And full disclosure I'm a Protestant :D )

      From a Biological perspective, Circumcision and Vasectomies are qualitatively different things. One is removing an exterior flap of skin that does not interfere with any major bodily functions (urinating, procreating, etc), and vasectomies etc are dealing with altering the insides of someone for the purpose of altering bodily functions. They are fundamentally different things, just as while both your skin and your uterus are both "organs" they are qualitatively different.

      From a Biblical perspective, Circumcision is Biblically prescribed for a time, whereas vasectomies, castration etc never were.

      And about 'preventative masectomies' depending how 'preventative' you are talking about, they are medically necessary as a last resort to stop death.
      My grandfather had to poop through a bag in his side. They only removed his colon because they had to. If he had just decided he didnt' want to poop the normal way anymore, and took out his colon for the heck of it, that would have been not good.

      As someone who has had a breast lump surgically removed, the doctor explained, if (God forbid) it came back again, they'd have to remove more of me.
      If I, one day out of the blue, just started worrying about breast cancer, and asked a doctor to take off my breasts, I think I would be in the wrong. Because there is no sign (thank God!) of any recurrance, there's no need to take it off.
      But if we were going to try to make the "preventative masectomy" case as much like the sterilization case as possible, it would be someone with healthy breasts, with no breast cancer, that out of fear of breast cancer had their breasts cut off. Which would be wrong, more of a mental sickness of fear, than any real physical sickness.
      (There are people who because of a mental problem, want doctors to remove their arms, etc. And its their mental problem that has to be dealt with, not their arms that have to be removed)

      So my point is, cutting of a gangrenous arm, a (historically) tumorous breast, a damaged colon, are all medical decisions of last resort, when the life of the person is threatened, and when all other treatments have failed.

      Pregnancy, for the vast majority of people that are trying to prevent it, is not a life-threatening condition.

      In conclusion mutilation/amputation is medically justifiable only when 1. Life is threatened. 2.The other treatments have been tried, and it is the solution of last resort.

      1. is rarely the case.
      2. By the very nature of how pregnancies occur, there is always another option.


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