Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(2) May 2023

Contraception and the Prophet Ezekiel:
Chemical Hijacking of the Moral Decision Chariot.

Fr Patrick Pullicino

Ezekiel and chariotThe initial manifestation and description of Ezekiel’s Merkavah or Chariot Vision (Ezek 1:1) is unique in Scripture. It is a vision which is at once complex, strange and almost dreamlike in parts, but compelling. It is structured like a three-tiered chariot, the middle tier of which includes the mystical four-faced figures (the “Living Creatures”). Irenaeus of Lyons saw the four gospels reflected in the faces of the Creatures, by using a psychological anthropomorphising of animal characteristics. The character forces imparted to the four faces have varied for Babylonian, Greek and New Testament Patristic commentators but over time certain core human characteristics stand out as a typical characterisation of each and can be labelled as follows: rationality (man), authoritativeness (lion), nurturance (cattle) and perspicacity (eagle).

Ezekiel tells us repeatedly that the Chariot “moved straight”: the fixed position of the heads relative to each other, as the chariot moves forward is a powerful metaphor for moral decision-making; their obligatory straight movements, as a model for “right reason”. The four Living Creatures are therefore a model for key psychological forces involved in human moral decision-making with conscious, and emotional as well as subconscious and spiritual inputs, and the way that these forces are arranged largely concurs with modern psychological dynamics.

Even in the fourth century, St. Jerome saw the four Creatures as decision making forces in humans, with the man, lion and calf making decisions but overlooked by the eagle who has an innate drive towards the good, “which does not mingle with the other three but corrects them when they go astray”. Implicit here is that the Creatures can give insight into how humans go morally astray. The Creatures are a useful model therefore of how moral decisions may be hijacked by negative forces. Also implied by Jerome is that the Creatures may only realise that they have gone astray by means of the eagle who is led by the Spirit.

What is the significance of this for contraception?

From a secular viewpoint, contraception is a product of the ingenuity of man that allows him control over the vagaries of the biology of the body. We now see that 850 million women or 63% of those married or in a “union” are using contraception. An estimated 68% of married Catholics in the USA use contraception. These huge numbers tell us that this is not only what our parishioners, but the majority of women want. So, is this not clearly a moral discernment that if this is what so many want, it must be good and represent the exercise of “right reason” or a sensus fidei that we have a duty to follow as a Church?

What however, are the negative effects of contraception?

As a neurologist I first became interested in this subject when a young woman with no risk factors apart from being on the “pill” presented with a stroke. This was regularly repeated and on average I saw at least one similar patient a year. The literature shows that there is 3- fold increase in stroke risk. In addition to this there are increased risk of certain types of cancer: breast, if started before 20, as well as cervix and liver cancer. These by themselves are enough to question the safety of the pill but these risks are minimised by the pharmaceutical and medical community. The risk of the pill to the health of the woman is often balanced against the risk of pregnancy to the woman although pregnancy is a physiological process, contracepting is not.

In connection with formulating a sensus fidei however, there is another very concerning side effect of the pill. Research has found that the duration of contraceptive use correlates with the lack of a moral-based (deontological) decision process.[1] In addition to this birth control pills have lasting effects on relationships: an on line survey of more than 2,500 women from different countries showed that participants who used hormonal contraceptives while choosing their partner were less attracted to him than those who did not use birth control. [2] This confirms laboratory studies that finds that women using oral contraceptives show a weaker preference for masculine men. This has implications for relationship and marriage stability when women stop contraceptives.[3]

How would contraceptives affect women’s decision making in this way?

It seems likely that regular contraceptive use affects the “reward circuit” of the brain or the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. Using the powerful tools of brain imaging, genetics and genomics, scientists have begun to understand how the brain becomes addicted.[4] Research shows that almost any normal activity we find pleasurable can activate the reward circuit. Our brains also encode and remember the circumstances that led to the pleasure so that we can repeat the behaviour. The executive centre of the brain creates the capacity to repeat the experience by providing motivation, rationalization and activation of other brain areas necessary to have the experience again. These memories and executive function tasks become stronger and more ingrained each time the experience is repeated. “Addiction” is far more than seeking pleasure by choice. It is a subconscious hijacking of the brain circuitry that controls behaviour. The reward system of the brain becomes subservient to the continuation of the pleasurable behaviour and access to sex divorced from the concern of the lifelong commitment of a successful pregnancy likely has commonality with drug addiction.

Like the brain circuits that control behaviour, the Moral Decision Chariot of individuals that are habitually contracepting has likely been hijacked in those on regular contraception. Since the majority of Catholics appear to be contracepting, an apparent sensus fidei decision, particularly about contraception use, is likely to be morally biased. Likewise, would be a “democratic” consensus from a medico ethical body which has been populated with minds who do not voluntarily submit their decision making to the Holy Spirit. True moral rectitude is more likely to lie within a grex parvus of a small group within the Church who know and live their faith and who have a knowledge of the sexual reality that contraception brings, compared with that of marriage, in which procreation is held to be the defining feature.[5]

Fr Patrick Pullicino is a retired Professor of Neurology and a priest in the Diocese of Southwark.


1.Armbruster, D. et al, (2021) Androgenic morality? Associa­tions of sex, oral contraceptive use and basal testosterone levels with moral decision making. Androgenic Morality. Behav Brain Res .408:113196. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2021.113196. 3282100084X

2. Craig Roberts et al. (2011). Relationship satisfaction and outcome in women who meet their partner while using oral contraception. Proc of the Royal Society B: Biological Sci­ences Oct 12 2012.

3. Little, Anthony C. et al. Oral contraceptive use in women changes preferences for male facial masculinity and is associ­ated with partner facial masculinity. Psychoneuroendocrinol­ogy. Vol.38(9), Sep 2013, pp. 1777-1785. 5301300070X

4. Wilkie A. Wilson, and Cynthia M. Kuhn, How addiction hijacks our reward system. Cerebrum 2005 at­system/Janet Smith (2018) Why Humanae Vitae is Still Right. p. 294