Author: Lysaught, M Therese
Date published: June 1, 2012
FERTILITY AND GENDER: ISSUES IN REPRODUCTIVE AND SEXUAL ETHICS. Edited by Helen Watt. Oxford: Anscombe Bioethics Centre, 2011. Pp. 220. £15.95.
The book brings together 14 essays from the final conference of the Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics (now the Anscombe Centre for Bioethics). Covering a range of topics - from marriage, celibacy, infertility, artificial reproduction, homosexuality, gender identity, chastity, contraception, HIV, and condoms, to the population explosion and sex education in the context of rising rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases - the essays are thoroughly grounded in late 20th-century teachings of the Roman Catholic magisterium on sexuality and reproductive technologies, particularly Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae (1968) and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instruction Donum vitae (1987), as well as the writings of Pope John Paul II. Of these essays, only two are authored by women.
About half the essays treat a spectrum of topics. Paul Mankowski, in "Fertility, Celibacy, and the Biblical Vindication of Marriage," provides in six brief pages a supersessionist account of the theological evolution of marriage from Genesis to Ephesians, arguing that marriage "paradoxically" came into its nature as holy via a christologically-grounded consecrated celibacy. Philip Sutton, in "Who Am I: Psychological Issues in Gender Identity and Sexual Attraction," distills a psychological mosaic of persons with same-sex attraction from the work of counselors who work with persons with unwanted same-sex attractions. David Patón in "Teenage Pregnancy, STIs, and Abstinence Strategies" argues that empirical evidence suggests that most educational interventions attempted in Britain have had little effect on reducing teen-pregnancy rates; no real attention to constructive alternatives - with, one would hope, better outcomes than the interventions critiqued - is provided. Dermot Grenham, in "Population Growth and Population Control," traces historically uncontextualized snippets on population control from Plato and Aristotle through Malthus and Erlich, concluding that people have been arguing about population and fertility control for "the last 2,600 years" and that these arguments "will continue as long as there are humans on earth" (124). Anthony McCarthy and Alexander Pruss argue in "Condoms and HIV Transmission" that attempts to use the principle of double effect to justify the use of condoms by HIV-serodiscordant married couples fails and that such couples "may need to abstain from intercourse entirely and show their love in other ways" (158).
The remaining essays treat two topics. A first set focuses on the nature of marriage and particularly on the use of contraception therein. Humanae vitae's inseparability principle is vigorously defended, if not rigorously argued. Anthony McCarthy's "Marriage and Meaning" is perhaps the premier example of this. The most intriguing of the contributions is Alexander Pruss's "From Love to Union as One Body." Most of his essay provides a thoughtful and nuanced reflection on the nature of the varieties of human love, although in the end his argument collapses into a surprisingly physicalist account of the "real union" of married love. Luke Gormally in "Marriage and the Common Good," Kevin O'Reilly in "Humanae Vitae and Chastity," and John Berry in "Contraception, Moral Virtue, and Technology" take up the important question of the virtue and practice of chastity within marriage. Berry mounts the most extensive argument in this regard, especially in his engagement with philosophically grounded concerns about technology. In the end, however, none of the essays provide a thorough account of the virtue of chastity. The final three essays - Mary Geach's "Motherhood, IVF [In Vitro Fertilization], and Sexual Ethics," Kevin L. Flannery's '"In This Regard, the Teaching of the Magisterium Is Already Explicit': On Dignitatis Personae §12," and Helen Watt's "Ethical Reproductive Technologies: Misplaced Hopes?" - reiterate and develop magisterial arguments against IVF and GIFT (Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer) in particular.
Overall, the book reflects a strong commitment to magisterial teaching. Those looking to bring this teaching into conversation with careful, nuanced, historically contextualized analyses of theoretically and pastorally pressing issues in sexual ethics and bioethics will need, however, to look elsewhere.
Marquette University, Milwaukee M. THERESE LYSAUGHT