Tuesday, February 23, 2016

re: "Pope Francis, the Zika Virus, and Contraception" (Witherspoon Institute, 2/23/16)

The Centers for Disease Control acknowledges that:   
  • "The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week....
  • "The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
  • "People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.
  • "Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.
  • "Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections....
  • "There is no vaccine to prevent or specific medicine to treat Zika infections.
  • "Treat the symptoms:
    • "Get plenty of rest.
    • "Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
    • "Take medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) to relieve fever and pain.
    • "Do not take aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
    • "If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.
  • "If you have Zika, prevent mosquito bites for the first week of your illness.
    • "During the first week of infection, Zika virus can be found in the blood and passed from an infected person to a mosquito through mosquito bites.
    • "An infected mosquito can then spread the virus to other people."
While it includes a plug for "consistent and correct use of latex condoms," the CDC's Interim Guidelines for Prevention of Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — United States, 2016 is otherwise rather modest about its knowledge:
"Infection with Zika virus is asymptomatic in an estimated 80% of cases (2,3), and when Zika virus does cause illness, symptoms are generally mild and self-limited. Recent evidence suggests a possible association between maternal Zika virus infection and adverse fetal outcomes, such as congenital microcephaly (4,5), as well as a possible association with Guillain-Barré syndrome....Current information about possible sexual transmission of Zika is based on reports of three cases....Whether infected men who never develop symptoms can transmit Zika virus to their sex partners is unknown. Sexual transmission of Zika virus from infected women to their sex partners has not been reported....
"Men who reside in or have traveled to an area of active Zika virus transmission who have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms ...for the duration of the pregnancy....
"After infection, Zika virus might persist in semen when it is no longer detectable in blood....
"At this time, testing of men for the purpose of assessing risk for sexual transmission is not recommended. As we learn more about the incidence and duration of seminal shedding from infected men and the utility and availability of testing in this context, recommendations to prevent sexual transmission of Zika virus will be updated."
In our 24/7 news world, many - especially some in the media like Paloma Garcis Overjero - seem ready to liken Zika to Bubonic Plague!  Do I even detect an unspoken misandry that disparages the very notion that husbands can indeed "abstain from sexual activity" during the course of their wives' pregnancy? 
"Holy Father, for several weeks there’s been a lot of concern in many Latin American countries but also in Europe regarding the Zika virus. The greatest risk would be for pregnant women. There is anguish. Some authorities have proposed abortion, or else to avoiding pregnancy. As regards avoiding pregnancy, on this issue, can the Church take into consideration the concept of 'the lesser of two evils?'"
While the Holy Father adroitly reminded Paloma Garcis Overjero that abortion "is a crime, an absolute evil," some of his response seemed confusing. "….Paul VI, a great man, in a difficult situation in Africa, permitted nuns to use contraceptives in cases of rape….” [i] suggests that Pope Francis was thinking about hormonal (so called) contraceptives, when Paloma Garcis Overjero was probably talking about condoms.  In any case, I absolutely and firmly agree with the Tollefson conclusion that:
"Catholics who accept their Church’s teaching on contraception (and others who accept natural law arguments against it) should refrain from using contraceptives in this case [i.e., transmission of Zika]. There can, of course, be serious reasons to abstain from sexual intercourse, and the possibility of maternal-fetal transmission of Zika is surely one such reason. Couples concerned about the health of their children should give that serious consideration and in some cases, at least, judge that abstention is the prudent course of action" [By the way, fabulous information is available about fertility awareness / abstaining which almost seems kept secret!].
In getting to his conclusion, Tollefson also seemed to confuse condoms with hormonal (so-called) contraceptives, wading into the use of those hormonal (so-called) contraceptives to treat victims of sexual assault.  While he did not mention it, I assume that he is familiar with the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishop's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (5th ed.):
"36. Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum."
The Vatican's 2000 ''Statement on the so-called 'Morning After Pill''' and 2008 "Dignitas Personae" (i.e., Section 23) struck me as indicating that any use of hormonal (so-called) contraceptives would be illicitin a Catholic hospital. Dignitas Personae certainly provides no guidelines for any supposed "moral" use of either a interceptive or a contragestative.  Yet interpreting Dignitas Personae as calling for discontinuing all use of hormonal (so-called) contraceptives for treating victims of sexual assault was hastily dismissed by powerful forces, such as the Catholic Health Association of the USA in its "Talking Points on Dignitas Personae": 
"Comments in S 23 may raise some questions....implementation of Directive 36 of the Ethical and Religious Directives remains unchanged.  Plan B, the medication of choice for emergency contraception does not appear to have a post-fertilization effect, given the results of repeated scientific studies" (A condensed version of "Talking Points on Dignitas Persona" can  be found on pages 6 and 7 of the January 2009 newsletter of the Catholic Health Association of Minnesota.).
Use of so-called hormonal (so-called) contraceptives has apparently continued at Catholic hospitals, despite critiques from physicians:  
Catholic health care facilities, Catholic health care professionals, and Catholic moral theologians should be on their rooftops proclaiming the wonderful truth of what the Church proclaims about marriage/family/sexuality and the fabulous information available about fertility awareness!  Isn't the use of potentially abortifacient drugs absolutely inconsistent with the life-affirming care, which should characterize Catholic health care facilities and Catholic health care professionals?

[i] "A controversy initially stirred by Pope John Paul II's public opposition to abortion for victims of rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina prompted the Vatican on Thursday to issue a highly unusual denial that it ever permitted the use of contraceptive pills by Catholic nuns in dangerous areas....[It was] reported that nuns working in parts of Latin America and Africa in the 1960s and '70s used contraceptive pills because they feared rape and pregnancy....the Vatican's deputy spokesman, Monsignor Piero Pennacchini, said Thursday that there were 'no Vatican documents in this regard' authorizing the use of the contraceptive pill for nuns in dangerous areas to avoid pregnancy" (NY Times News Service, 3/5/1993).  Though it had been dismissed, I recall hearing this anecdote in 1996 from an eminent Catholic moral theologian.  While it has now resurfaced, we now know the abortifacient potential of those hormonal (so called) contraceptives!

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