June 2007

Natural Family Planning: Con & Pro

In response to John F. Kippley's article, "The U.S. Bishops Pitch NFP: But Without a Sense of Urgency" (March): I have written the proverbial "thousand letters" over the course of the past score of years to all levels of ecclesiastical authorities that, given a trustful surrender to Divine Providence, an essential election for the orderly fulfillment of marital life -- Natural Family Planning -- is not necessary.

From the very onset of eternity, God deigned the number of children -- some, none, many -- that would grace each family unit, and He promised to supply whatever might be lacking in their socio-economic state of living, except for those marital partners who would betray gluttonous appetites for sex.

For the moral permissibility of sex in the confines of marriage, the intent must needs be to make a baby; otherwise, the act becomes recreational.

Thus, "love-making" is for "baby-making," which rule of human life holds court until "death do us part."

Such is God's mind on the question, who deigned that the pleasure derived from the act is the means by which the earth is populated.

Emil J. Bodart
Merion Station, Pennsylvania

A greater sense of urgency in promoting Natural Family Planning won't address the sense of fear among American Catholics that NFP -- no matter how technically effective -- will lead to a surprise child or a late-in-life baby or a handicapped infant who will break the budget and shatter their atomistic family structure.

Compare that attitude with the Amish. They aren't afraid of big families because they retain the networked family structure from Catholic Europe of the 1500s that American Catholics long ago jettisoned. Today, the few Catholic families practicing NFP do so within faith-and-family support networks. This shows that along with "urgent" preaching, it will take virtuous practice of NFP lived within a framework of family support that could be termed "Natural Family Formation."

Natural Family Formation occurs when a parish Respect Life Committee develops NFP support groups and resources. It occurs when a L'Arche community is established in a deanery to assist families with mentally disabled members. It occurs when a Knights of Columbus Council helps a brother Knight get a better job to support his family. Love casts out fear. NFP will flourish as we boldly nurture its prerequisite -- Natural Family Formation.

Steve Wissler
Ephrata, Pennsylvania

Wanted: Guidelines

Following Church law, Pope John Paul II declared the war on Iraq unjust, and rightly so. The U.S. was clearly the aggressor. But he neglected to give any guidelines for the Catholic fighting men.

Paul Muessig's letter (March) and the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy's article (March) lay down the guidelines. An unjust war amounts to first-degree murder. But that entails more than these two men realized. Catholic troops should lay down their arms and refuse to fight. In military lingo, that is desertion under fire, which is punishable by execution or a long jail term.

What about Catholics who work in a war factory? They too are supporting an unjust war. They will have to resign their positions and head for the nearest bread line.

There are no clear answers.

Pete Fiorillo
West Haven, Connecticut

I have just finished reading the no-holds-barred article by the Rev. Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, "War & the Requirement of Moral Certainty" (March). I concur with every statement of his discussion of Catholic Just War doctrine and its strict application to the war in Iraq. In particular, I would like to comment on his assertion that "No Catholic bishop, or anyone else for that matter, can use the self-exonerating excuse of invincible, non-culpable ignorance in a matter of morality related to homicide, if he genuinely desired to know -- and actively sought to know -- the factual truth of the matter at the time of the decision." I would change that little word "if" to "unless," otherwise it almost sounds as if a lack of genuine desire and effort to know the truth will get a man off the hook. Invincible, non-culpable ignorance exists only when a person is either unaware of his ignorance or if he is completely unable to dispel it, despite his obligatory efforts.

I say that the bishops, indeed all Catholics, have a moral obligation to actively seek and know the factual truth of this supremely important matter, and that their ignorance/silence, particularly in the case of bishops, is culpable and damnable. Not only that, but when the bishops fail in their duty regarding a matter of supreme moral importance, then surely it is the solemn duty of the Pope, the Supreme Shepherd of the Church, to insist that they fulfill their duty and to fill the void if they refuse.

Fr. McCarthy claims that "the best intelligence-gathering operation on the planet" is the Vatican's Secretary of States Office. That being true, it is reasonable to assume that the Pope is fully aware of the American bishops' dereliction of duty. Meanwhile, the late great Catholic Church is burning to the ground.

God help me, but the temptation to despair is crushing me. While I could never subscribe to the sedevacantists' position, with cowardly popes and cowardly bishops in charge, we might as well be without a pope.

A Nobody Housewife in Virginia

"God bless America" is a mantra that has become popular since 9/11. But why should God bless America? Since 1973 over 40 million unborn babies have been killed in America -- a manifestation of a wicked and licentious generation. Meanwhile, abortions have been illegal in Iraq and Iran. Which country, then, should be labeled an Evil Empire?

Any knowledgeable person realizes that the U.S. invaded and now occupies Iraq to control production of Iraqi oil from the second largest oil reserve in the world. And U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for the foreseeable future, until the oil is depleted. Too many status-seeking Americans promote selfish consumerism and hedonism.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI condemned the U.S. war on Iraq as unprovoked, and Bishop John Botean of the Romanian Eparchy in Canton, Ohio, stated that "any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin," and that "with moral certainty…it does not meet even the minimal standards of the Catholic just-war theory" (Neo-Conned!, IHS Press, p. 293).

Robert J. Kendra
Putnam, Connecticut

Pax Técum

This is in reply to the letter from Elizabeth Augusta (April). While I appreciate her effort, she really shouldn't say Pax vobíscum when she addresses a pew mate. She is using the plural. What she should say is Pax técum.

Walter Stock
Glendale, New York

Do Not Confuse Materialism & Evolution

In her review of the book The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (March), Anne Barbeau Gardiner does a good job of highlighting some mistakes, but falls into a trap at the end when she writes, "Evolutionism as worldview purports to explain all of reality as sheer matter…. What a bleak religion it is!" However, it is philosophical materialism, not evolution, that believes reality is based solely on matter. Evolution is based on observations and is an ongoing, self-correcting attempt to explain the great diversity of life forms found on earth. It stands independent of most philosophical ideas and is supported by both theists and materialists.

To confuse materialism and evolution is a mistake and plays into the hands of individuals like Dawkins who incorrectly attempt to equate the biological sciences with a philosophy that corresponds to their godless worldview. He and others should be refuted whenever they try to do this.

We need to make known the intellectual problems that became apparent in materialism during the past century because of discoveries in physics and mathematics, and also publicize that the horrible social evils under Nazism and Communism were due in part to their underlying materialist philosophy; and then invite people to recognize the fullness of truth found in the person of Christ and His Body on earth as the way to overcome these problems and evils. However, it's tough to do that when believing Christians wrongly condemn evolution because they confuse it with materialism, and thus inadvertently push people with scientific inclinations over to Dawkins's views.

Philip Lehpamer
Brooklyn, New York

High Prelates Should Have More Respect for the Sacred Host

I just finished watching Commemoration of Our Lord's Passion on Good Friday from Rome, via EWTN. I had to write someone to say how appalled I was when the Pope gave Communion to the red-robed bishops and cardinals. Appalled because so many of them received in the hand. I know, it's optional. Somehow, I felt that those high prelates would have more respect. They received in the hand, but not properly. None cupped one hand in the other, proffering this to receive our Lord. Very few kept their hands in a prayerful position. They looked around after receiving as they seemingly carelessly popped the sacred Host into their mouths. Who will save us from these nonchalant, disrespectful leaders?

Robert M. Olesnevich
Somerville, New Jersey

Capital Punishment

I'll "take a shot" at answering Dick Cotter's letter (March) about capital punishment, popes, bishops, Genesis 9:6, Exodus 20:13, and "cafeteria Catholicism."

The beginning verses of Genesis 9 are God's instructions to Noah after the flood, after Noah's sacrifice, and after God's promise that He would "never again curse the ground on account of man" (8:21). Genesis 9:6, which Cotter takes to be a command (one, moreover, that requires capital punishment), says that "whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God man was made."

The English translation "by man his blood shall be shed" is ambiguous; is that an imperative verb or just a future-tense verb? Chapter 9 contains a direct command (vv. 1,7) to Noah to "be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth." This command is clear; it is not clear that "his blood shall be shed" is a command.

There are a couple of other points to be made here. First, Jesus came to fulfill the old law, not to abolish or destroy it (Mt. 5:17). And Peter (1 Pet. 2:21-24) tells us explicitly that we are to take Jesus as an example: "Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you follow in His steps…. who, when He was reviled, did not revile, when He suffered, did not threaten, but yielded Himself up to him who judged Him unjustly…."

St. Peter was our first pope, and was possibly included in Cotter's "present and past popes" (emphasis added), whom he says may be possible "cafeteria Catholics." If St. Peter gave Jesus as an example that we are to follow, and Jesus never harmed any fellow human being, then are we or are we not to do as Jesus did? And, if the Apostles did not attempt to shed the blood of those who had killed Jesus, then surely they were the first "cafeteria Catholics"?

Jesus didn't destroy the law -- but it's undeniable that He changed, if not the law itself, then the early Christians' understanding of it.

And there are a lot more commands given in Scripture that are widely (some even completely) ignored by Catholics and Christians of all denominations. Think of all the personal hygiene rituals, for example.

Finally, if one thinks too much about Genesis 9:6 out of context, and without the support of the Magisterium, one can find oneself in a deep quagmire. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man his blood shall be shed" requires only one instance of a murderer dying a natural death in order to prove God "wrong." Does Scripture mean what it says? What is more important, did God mean what He said there to Noah? "Whoever" -- no exceptions! -- sheds man's blood shall have his blood shed by man. Was God wrong, or is man intractably, sinfully disobedient? But what if the murderer was never found out, like Jack the Ripper? What if Jack the Ripper died a natural death? Then God would be wrong, no? Of course, we don't know Jack's end and how it came about; I speak hypothetically. The mistake comes in thinking that we have to interpret literally everything we see as a "command" in the Old Testament and then conclude that we have to carry out that command in our own lives.

This discussion recalls to mind the two people who murdered a cousin of mine -- their sentence was life imprisonment, not the death penalty, although that was an option. My cousin's family extended mercy to the killers. And I think they were right, because elsewhere Holy Scripture says, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Hos. 6:6; Mt. 12:7; Mt. 9:13).

Miriam S. Dapra
Hartville, Wyoming

I'll take a shot at the death penalty. "The heart of man is evil and desperately wicked above all things, and who can know it, but the Lord?" (Jer. 17:9).

What have murderers, rapists, and kidnappers to fear, if there is no death penalty for these crimes against men, women, and helpless children? A life sentence in prison? Where they make prisons an even more dangerous place? A lifetime to escape? Endless appeals?

"Because the sentence against evildoers is not promptly executed, therefore the hearts of men are filled with the desire to commit evil -- because the sinner does evil a hundred times and survives" (Eccles. 8:11-12; Douay). God's Word is perfect. We have reaped a bitter harvest of sorrow and unsafe streets with blanket opposition to the death penalty.

Our Sixth Bill of Rights demands a speedy and public trial. Our Fifth Bill of Rights declares that no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law. People who say the death penalty is unconstitutional are wrong.

Our Seventh Bill of Rights gives the juries the power: A death sentence handed down by a 12-person jury is final, and no judge should be allowed to overturn it. Juries must see all the evidence, hear all the testimony, and get answers to all their questions. They should not allow any obstruction of justice by judges, lawyers, or anyone else.

Jurors must always be provided a copy of our Bill of Rights.

I am a volunteer juror, but I have never been seated.

Donovan Dunn
Brockport, New York

First off, God's Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," doesn't mean that any killing is immoral. What it does mean is thou shall not intentionally "murder." This Commandment does not prohibit a "just killing." I see no need to fully explain what constitutes murder (an unjust killing) since most learned Catholics understand the distinction between murder and a justified killing.

Cotter's quote of Genesis 9:6, in reference to God's command to Noah, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in God's image He made man," certainly does not prohibit a "just killing"; but is similar to the general Commandment in Exodus 20:13, commonly referred to as the Third Commandment from God.

Now, if one is under the opinion that all capital punishment is immoral under all circumstances, or that under all circumstances the killing of another human being is immoral, that person has an inadequate understanding of the moral criteria involved in making that judgment. Killing in self-defense or to defend the helpless is justified when certain clear criteria exist.

How laws of nations come into play under the Natural Law to allow capital punishment by the state is explained in the respected textbook used in some Catholic universities during the 1950s titled Right and Reason: Ethics in Theory and Practice by Fr. Austin Fagothey. "Whatever is indispensable to man's life in society is prescribed by the natural law. For the natural law required man to conform his conduct to the norm of morality, which includes man's social relations to his fellow man. But obedience to the civil law is indispensable to man's life in society. For society must be guided by law and the natural law must be supplemented by positive law. Therefore, obedience to the civil law is prescribed by the natural law."

Furthermore, Fr. Fagothey teaches that laws are useless without enforcement, and enforcement supposes the right to punish by the state. He explains that an ideal punishment should be: (1) retributive, vindicating the rights of the offended; (2) corrective, rehabilitating the offender; and (3) deterrent, forewarning the community at large.

Fr. Fagothey explains that much has been written in modern times on "retributive punishment," and some have thrown it out as "a relic of benighted barbarism." They argue that it is mere revenge and is therefore immoral in itself, that it is but adding one evil to another and not overcoming evil with good.

Fr. Fagothey argues persuasively that "The reason we cannot abolish the retributive function of punishment, and limit ourselves to the corrective and deterrent functions, is that all punishment, to be justified, must be based on retributions. Retribution may not be uppermost in mind but it must be present; otherwise the infliction of any punishment is morally wrong."

Fr. Fagothey states that from the beginning of recorded history the state has used capital punishment rather freely and often excessively. With respect to very serious crimes such as murder and treason, the state exists to maintain justice, and one of its chief purposes is the prevention and punishment of crime. In receiving its authority from God through the Natural Law, the state also receives from Him the right to use the necessary means for attaining its end; and the death penalty is used as such a means. It fulfills the retributive function of punishment by re-establishing, as far as possible, the balance of outraged justice and is thought to be the only effectual punishment against the most serious crimes.

By its very nature, capital punishment cannot be corrective; but correction, desirable though it be in a punishment, is not absolutely necessary. In the most serious crimes, the claims of retributions and deterrence are so imperative that the corrective aspect must be sacrificed, if necessary. Though the state has the right of capital punishment, it need not exercise the right if it can protect itself from criminals in another way. If the state can prove that it can effectively handle crime without the death penalty, it may be argued that it should not use it.

Reason tells us that if capital punishment often fails as a deterrent, the fault may lie in the way it is administered rather than in the nature of the punishment itself. The law's long delays can empty the lesson of all its meaning. To be an effective deterrent, punishment should be swift, summary, and sure, with proper time for a proper trial. As we all know, any death penalty case may be in the courts for 20 or more years on appeals.

In summary, Dick Cotter incorrectly interprets the biblical quotation from Genesis 9:6 to include all of the acceptable moral killings under the Natural Law, such as self-defense, normal police justified killings, those killings done in a just-war situation, etc., and he fails to see how God is directing that biblical quotation to apply to all of mankind who unjustly kill another human being (murder).

Since capital punishment is not intrinsically immoral but is evaluated on all of the moral criteria to determine if punishment was or was not morally justified, it is best to understand the moral theology involved rather than blindly spouting off that all capital punishment is "immoral." Even Pope John Paul II did not deem it intrinsically immoral, but stated that it would only be morally acceptable under very limited circumstances.

Wilbur Goolkasian
Umpqua, Oregon

As a Catholic and a public defender, I am frequently astounded by the willingness of otherwise conservative Christians to accept as a given the good will of the U.S. government when it comes to criminal cases in general and the death penalty in particular -- the same government that is one of the bastions of the Culture of Death. Do these Christians believe that the government somehow becomes more careful to preserve life in death-penalty cases?

As a person who has been involved in the criminal-justice system, I can assure you that the chance of a miscarriage of justice rises with the seriousness of the offense. You are more likely to get a fair trial for jaywalking than for murder. Why? Chalk it up to man's fallen nature. As the stakes become higher, and the crime more vicious, innocence tends to become less important. Often the prosecution gets the benefit of "loopholes" in the system.

Take, for example, Commonwealth v. Carson, a capital case that was decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on December 27, 2006. The Court upheld the death penalty for Carson. To understand the Carson case, one must understand what a life sentence in Pennsylvania means. While most citizens in Pennsylvania believe that a life sentence means that you can't be paroled for a set numbers of years, the truth is that you can't be paroled at all. Given this fact, simple common sense and human decency, not to mention a Christian regard for the truth, should mean that the jury has a right in all capital cases to be instructed what a life sentence in Pennsylvania means. Not so. Not only is the judge not obliged to instruct the jury in all capital cases that life means life, even defense counsel may be forbidden to tell the jury. Once again, by simply ruling that fact "irrelevant," the jury can be kept thinking that if they sentence him to life, the defendant will eventually get out. The courts have ruled that the jury need only be instructed as to the effect of a life sentence if the prosecutor argues the future dangerousness of the defendant and defense counsel asks for the instruction. The prosecutor in the Carson case argued to the jury that "Enough is enough…. We are not going to let any more people be injured…. Enough is enough." The Court ruled that argument was not enough to constitute the prosecutor arguing future dangerousness.

Again, let's strip away the legalese. Forget the prosecutor's argument. The jury itself is going to worry about a defendant getting out and maybe killing again. Why in Heaven's name can't the jury be told the effect of a life sentence? What is the point of keeping them in the dark? Especially when someone's life is at stake, shouldn't the fact-finders have all of the facts?

Some may say that they have never heard of this case, that it must be rare or unique. Not so. This case perfectly exemplifies the legal loopholes prosecutors can exploit to the detriment of people, innocent or guilty, who have been charged with a capital crime.

Many conservative Christians were shocked and appalled at the courts' handling of the Terri Schiavo case. They instinctively felt that if someone's life was at issue, every doubt should be resolved in favor of life. They could not believe how cavalierly the courts appeared to have handled the case. They should not have been shocked. Courts have been sentencing people to death for sometime now. Even with the best of intentions, it is now clear that we have sentenced to death a number of innocent people along with the guilty.

In fairness to judges and prosecutors, I have never known a judge to be publicly criticized for being too tough. The media, on the other hand, frequently and often unfairly pillory judges for being "too soft." Those who routinely call for the death penalty, who constantly quote "an eye for an eye" in order to justify more calls for the death penalty, must shoulder a significant portion of the blame. There have been over 100 DNA exonerations, many of them in capital cases. Most cases don't even involve DNA. How many innocents have we killed?

It is true that the Old Testament is replete with crimes that call for the death penalty; murder was just one of them. But Christ gave us a new Covenant. It is sometimes difficult to answer the bracelet question: "What Would Jesus Do?" I have some friends who say that Jesus said nothing about abortion or stem-cell research. (Catholics know this is precisely why Jesus left us a Church and not a Book.) But in the area of capital punishment, Jesus not only spoke on the subject, He gave us a powerful example (Jn. 8). A woman was brought to Him who had been "caught in the act" of a capital crime. She was clearly guilty and the law allowed for no discretion -- the penalty for adultery was death.

Jesus intoned to the blood-thirsty crowd: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." They dropped their stones and left. Then Jesus spoke directly to the woman: "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more." He was the only one there who was fit to cast a stone, using the standard that He Himself had just set out, but He did not. He did not kill, even though the law commanded Him to do so! This is the same law cited by many today when they say, "An eye for an eye…."

We now have an elaborate system of prisons that can hold huge numbers of people indefinitely. Some of these prisons, notably the death rows, isolate the inmate from virtually all human contact. This was not the case for centuries before this one. There was no place to put a killer to prevent him from killing again and again. It was under those conditions that the Church conceded the morality of the death penalty. In essence, it was a situation where the state permissibly acted in self-defense or rather in the defense of others. But self-defense, like the defense of others, is always limited to situations where there is no other safe alternative. The Church is now teaching that, because there is another safe alternative (i.e., prison), the death penalty is no longer generally permissible. We ignore this Church teaching to the peril of our immortal souls.

Mary Ochal
Conshohocken, Pennsylvania

The Inner Paradox of Masculinity

When following the discussions in the NOR touching on matters of homosexuality and the Church, I sometimes notice confusions that blur the truth we are searching. I would like to propose some distinctions, which might help the discussions to be fruitful.

First of all, the so-called "gay" movement wants persons living a homosexual lifestyle to be treated as a social group, defined by a distinct identity. This is an error. In fact, we should distinguish the four levels of homosexuality.

1.  Homosexual feelings means there is a certain sexual attraction for the same sex. These are basically a sign of immaturity, a personality disorder that appears often in troubled family relationships. At an early stage, they may disappear, while later they can be overcome. They do always coincide with a disturbance of inner peace. Homosexual feelings by themselves do not belong to the "moral" sphere of good and bad and thus cannot be sinful. For this reason, many persons representing Church authority prefer to talk exclusively on this level, because it only offends a few persons and gives them an opportunity to appear, above all, merciful. They flee from openly talking about the three following levels.

2.  Homosexual acts physically satisfy sexual urges with persons of the same sex. As a former prison chaplain, I confide this fact of experience to you (I don't like to, but in this context I have to): Homosexual acts do not necessarily spring from homosexual attraction. Sometimes another male is "used" to satisfy an uncontrolled and frustrated "heterosexual" virtual imagery. In any case, to the human conscience, homosexual acts are always devastating and humiliating, whatever the attraction leading to it.

3.  Homosexuals for some reason do need a specific collective. Fear of rejection by the rest of the community is only part of the reason. Men naturally need signs of authentication from other men, even (or especially) when they feel insecure about their own nature and their conscience. Anyway, most of these collectives are hidden; they do not show themselves openly. Church authorities, it seems, are unaware of this, and if they are, for some reason they do not talk about it openly.

4.  In modern times a new phenomenon has appeared: collectives publicly claiming to be homosexual. They want to be seen as one identity among many others in a tolerant pluralistic society. This implies they first claim equal rights and now also the right to impose their opinion on others. Given the fact that they are fascinated with lowering the age of consent and with homosexual adoption, it is the weak and young who will be the victims -- as usual. The effects will be so gruesome that we won't even be able to treat the symptoms, let alone the causes. In European politics, the so-called "gay" collective has become one of the strongest voices wanting to be heard -- and to be obeyed. Practically no one resists. In all Western democracies, they are today's most important political danger to freedom of expression, especially to religious expression, but very few Church representatives dare to expose their tactics and their attacks.

Some homosexual collectives exist somewhere between secret and public. I cannot judge whether the presence of homosexuals in some seminaries was due to willful infiltration, or a cultural phenomenon favored by the post-Council confusion.

Another distinction needs to be made. In all four aspects of male homosexuality, two tendencies can be observed: an effeminate one; and a fetishist, domineering one. These two spring from masculinity itself, which is full of paradoxes that constitute its natural identity. By consecrating themselves to a higher goal, particularly in the context of religion, men normally surpass their inner paradoxes and become whole. This constitutes and accomplishes their personal identity. In personality disorders we discover that inner paradoxes have remained unrequited and have turned into contradictions. Thus, homosexuality, when it emerges from its unfulfilled imagery, appears either as an unnaturally prolonged fusion with the mother (the effeminate version), or as a never-ending brutality to imitate a father, cruelly unknown (the domineering version). In female homosexuality, one hardly finds this distinction so clearly.

Not all male homosexuals are effeminate. And not all people whom we experience as being effeminate are homosexual. In fact, some men are so obsessed with pleasing women that they take on female behavior, and some women who do not like men, or who are scared of them, are all too willing to play the comedy. Those men with time become scared of other men and finally of themselves -- but are not necessarily homosexual. I wish to make this clear, because the problem of effeminacy might be as great a threat to Catholic clergy as the homosexual scandals.

Fr. Elias Leyds
Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria
Russian Federation

The Moral Implications Will Envelop Us All

Mrs. Denise Flowers challenged my statements that vaccines are "far, far safer than the diseases they prevent…" in her letter (March). I reply here, using her chosen example of polio.

Paralytic polio is a devastating disease, with a high morbidity and mortality. Prior to widespread vaccination, the polio virus was endemic worldwide and, like most endemic diseases, polio fluctuated cyclically. In the U.S., cases of polio averaged 7,000-10,000 cases per year from 1937-1942, but began to ramp up as an epidemic developed, peaking at 58,000 cases in 1952. This was a half century into the era of universal sanitation and plumbing, two other acknowledged major contributors to the reduction in serious contagious diseases. In the late 1940s the Salk "inactivated polio vaccine" (IPV) was developed; it was licensed in 1955. Think of the "I" as standing for "injection," because IPV requires a series of shots. In 1958 the Sabin "oral polio vaccine" (OPV, using a live, attenuated virus strain in a sugar cube) was introduced. By 1960 the annual number of polio cases in the U.S. dropped under 2,000; by 1966 it was under 100; by 1979 the last "naturally acquired" polio case was reported in the U.S.; and the Western Hemisphere has been considered "polio free" since the 1990s. However, polio is still endemic in Africa and much of Asia, and "is only a plane ride away," hence the rationale for continued vaccination in the West.

During this period, both the IPV (Salk) and the OPV (Sabin) vaccines were used. The OPV has many advantages over the IPV. However, with time, it developed that it also had one big disadvantage which IPV does not share, and that is "Vaccine Associated Paralytic Polio" or VAPP. VAPP is estimated at one case per 2.5 million doses overall, though this risk increases at the first dose to one in 520,000. This translated into an average of eight to nine cases of VAPP annually in the U.S. from 1979-1998. The last reported case of VAPP in the U.S. was in 1998. In 1997 a change was made in the U.S. immunization schedule so that only IPV is used, which, as noted, is not associated with VAPP.

So vaccines are, in general (a qualifier Mrs. Flowers deleted from the original) far, far safer than the diseases they prevent. That is my first point. It's true of the polio vaccine, and similar analyses can be done for other significant diseases. The risks (including VAPP) associated with licensed vaccines are, in general, well known and well documented, and the other problems Mrs. Flowers states are associated with vaccines (for example, cancer) simply have not been borne out.

The second point is this: Many "vaccine preventable illnesses" are still prevalent in parts of the world with low immunization rates. This severely damages the hypothesis that the decline in these illnesses is primarily due to factors other than immunization programs. The third point -- and a very important point -- is this: Just because some immunization programs are useful and wise, that doesn't mean they all are. Many physicians, including me, question the need for universal vaccination (as opposed to targeted vaccination) against diseases such as varicella, rubella, rotavirus, hepatitis B, and perhaps some others. But, at their heart, these are public-health and public-policy questions, not moral ones. Granted, sometimes there is slop over into other areas: The evolving fiasco regarding universal vaccination of young girls against the human papilloma virus with the Gardasil vaccine (produced by Merck) is an example that involves (in my mind, anyway) infringement upon the Catholic social principal of subsidiarity. There's nothing intrinsically immoral about Gardasil as such; the problem lies with the way it is being implemented. That is why it is important to separate questions of vaccine safety from questions of vaccine morality. Vaccination, even universal vaccination in appropriate instances, is not in principal an intrinsic evil.

There is, however, a profound moral question, and it is this: What does one do if a specific vaccine is manufactured using immoral means? The Merck products for varicella and rubella (among others) are manufactured using cell lines derived from aborted babies; if a parent uses these vaccinations, is he co-operating, even in a remote way, with the evil of those abortions? The answer is well beyond the scope of this letter, and in my previous letter I referenced several websites where one could find out, among other things, what the Vatican has to say on this matter. The topic is important, because we will soon see many, many medical therapies -- not just vaccines -- derived from such "human technology manufacturing platforms." The moral implications will envelop us all.

Timothy P. Collins, M.D.
Chesapeake, Virginia

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