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Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 61(3) August 2011 42-4

Fertility & Gender. Issues in Reproductive and Sexual Ethics

Edited by Helen Watt
Oxford-Anscombe Bioethics Centre
ISBN 978-0-906561-12-6

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan 

This marvellous work deserves a wide readership. While all essays in the book are well worth reading for their ethical integrity and religious orthodoxy, I will concentrate on a few for purposes of this review.

David Paton's essay Teenage pregnancy, STIs and abstinence strategies examines the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy proposed in 1999 by the then Government and it is a useful paper for clinicians. Paton notes that the under-18 rate of pregnancy was actually decreasing before the strategy got going and, as more money has been spent, the decrease in pregnancy has, if anything, slowed down. At the same time, the diagnoses of STIs have continued to increase dramatically.

Paton argues that, with the free availability of contraception to teenagers, those who might have abstained are more likely to engage in sexual activity. He examines certain ‘myths’ concerning teenage pregnancy: that spending money on access to emergency birth control contributes to lower teenage pregnancy rates, that enhanced sex education has been shown to lead to lower teenage pregnancy rates and that abstinence education has been shown not to delay sexual activity but to increase STIs. All these assumptions are shown to be false.

In his essay Marriage and meaning, Anthony McCarthy takes on the proposition posed by, among others, Gareth Moore: "To try to ground the meaning of sexual activity in the creative activity of God is to make a fundamental mistake.” McCarthy argues that marriage and sexual activity are indeed 'naturally' meaningful. Sex is fundamentally about the physical, the biological and the teleological. It is marriage which is that standard with respect to which sexual activity is to be judged to be good or not, a standard that applies to all human beings by virtue of their rational nature.

In their essay Condoms and HIV transmission, Anthony McCarthy and Alexander R Pruss ask if double effect reasoning could justify the use of a condom by a married couple when the husband or wife is HIV positive. They argue convincingly that the Double Effect argument fails.

In his essay Who am I? Psychological issues in gender identity and same-sex attraction, Philip Sutton writes: "While those who promote the normalization of SSA may argue in public that people are 'born that way', there is no scientific evidence to support the view that SSA is genetically or biologically predetermined."

It is argued that SSA springs from failed gender identification during childhood and adolescence due to imbalanced parent-child interactions and peer-group maladaption. In his essay Humanae Vitae and chastity, Kevin O'Reilly discusses the dynamic reciprocity between the teaching of HV and chastity. Those who follow the doctrine of HV will become chaste while those who become chaste will be better able to appreciate the truth of HV's doctrine. Ultimately, the moral vision that chastity imparts is required in order to appreciate the teaching of HV.

O'Reilly notes that only in recent times has the importance of virtue in HV been recognized. The discipline of chastity is not merely in relation to spouses but it also "provides parents with a sure and efficacious authority for educating their children." In other words, the virtue of chastity promotes behaviours which conduce to true human flourishing. As the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has noted, the moral virtues presuppose institutions, in this case the family, as the context in which they thrive and are passed on to the next generation.

Luke Gormally's critique of the frankly ludicrous thesis of ‘popular’ philosopher Simon Blackburn that lust is a species of virtue is one of the most enjoyable sections of the book.

The Anscombe Centre is to be highly commended for this examination of the pivotal issues in reproductive and sexual ethics.