On July 25 1968, Pope Paul VI published his landmark encyclical, Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”). This document dealt with many issues of married life. Its focus was, above all, the condemnation of the use of any artificial method of family planning. Now on its 50th anniversary, there has been an abundance worldwide of comments, discussions and essays, for and against that proclamation.
Humanae Vitae forbids Catholics to use any form of artificial contraception. Only the so-called natural method is allowed, which consists of avoiding sexual intercourse at the time a woman is fertile.
The proclamation has divided the church. One side consists of much of the clergy and many devout Catholics who espouse the Pope’s points of view; the other side — almost instantaneously after the release of the encyclical — has voiced strong opposition to that teaching. That side not only includes many practicing Catholics, but also many bishops, cardinals and renowned theologians.
In the United States and much of the developed world, the debate has slowly abated, as many Catholics have decided to ignore the ban.
But there are many areas in the world where people do not have the same luxury as we to make up our minds about this issue. We need to continue to pressure the hierarchy to consider changing its position on family planning.
Without going into the pros and cons of the various methods of contraception, planning one’s family is a basic human right, and denying people a choice in the method othat works best for them, is denying them that human right. If the natural method works for a couple, all the better, but if it does not, then the choice of an alternate method is imperative.
William J. LeMaire, MD,
University of Miami,
Miller School of Medicine,