More than 50 years ago, the Vatican, led by Pope Paul VI – a thoughtful and conscientious man – deliberated over the newly invented contraceptive Pill for women. Could it be regarded as a legitimate method of regulating fertility? Many Catholic scholars thought it could. The Pill had been pioneered by a Catholic doctor, John Rock, and he had done much of his field research in Puerto Rico, among Catholic mothers who were anxious to limit their families.
It was a rabbi who explained to me why the contraceptive Pill was the most acceptable form of birth control – as far as he was concerned, for orthodox Jews. Barrier methods were frowned upon precisely because they placed an impediment between a couple who should be “two in one flesh”, whereas the contraceptive Pill was a medication which placed no obstruction to conjugality. From this rabbinical lesson, I could see why the contraceptive Pill came so near to getting papal approval back in 1968.
And now we are on the cusp of the launch of a contraceptive “Pill” for men, currently being pioneered by (among others) Professor Richard Anderson at the University of Edinburgh. Trials have taken place – this “Pill” is a jab rather than an oral medication – and it seems that the procedure is, clinically, reasonably successful. (Though there are side-effects, which most drugs have.) So, will the Vatican return to discuss this new chapter in the ever-evolving story of fertility control?
Possibly not, for the moment. But it’s an interesting development, with many psychological ramifications. The pharmaceutical companies are reported to be doubtful about marketing it – they’re not sure they could trust men to take it.
And I suspect some women might feel that a male contraceptive jab means a man “taking control”. I have encountered wives who were furious when their husbands had a vascectomy. Fertility management often comes down to trust and love between the couple.
Yet it’s a subject in which there is continuous development. One of the most fascinating experiments this year was carried out by a Danish researcher, Dr Elina Burglund, who created an app for natural fertility cycles. It’s not perfected yet, but Dr Burglund believes that it’s a way of helping women to understand and direct their fertility – and her husband says it enhances the marital relationship. From rhythm to algorithm!
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