Pope Considers Harm Reduction

The Pope’s remarks about condom use are a striking example of the reasoning behind harm reduction.

MANILA, Philippines—Some church members in Southeast Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation praised Pope Benedict XVI for saying condom use might be justified in some cases, though Filipino bishops stressed Sunday the church leader still opposes contraceptives.
Speaking to a German journalist whose book was excerpted in a Vatican newspaper Saturday, the pontiff reiterated that condoms are not a moral solution for stopping AIDS. But he added that in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.”

‘A first step’. I don’t think the Pope intends it that way, but this is a breach in the wall of absolutism.

Harm reduction strategies, such as clean needle distribution for injecting drug addicts and condom distribution were created as a response to a deadly epidemic, and are intended to prevent people at risk from getting infected and infecting others. Needle exchange sites distribute information on drug treatment and make referrals to treatment centers– unfortunately the referral is usually to a waiting list. But the ethics of harm reduction is to buy time for people who will one day find a way out of the self destructive behaviours they engage in. There’s always the risk of becoming an enabler. Programs of harm reduction have to be carefully constructed and monitored.

Zero tolerance, imprisonment and ex-communication are other ongoing strategies that can’t claim more success. I think that life is messy, and purity has killed more people and ruined more lives than sin. We’re only human. When we aim for perfection we more often land on arrogance.

Defining condom use as a sin, and then saying that this rule can be broken to prevent a worse harm– HIV infection, is a humane answer to the imperfection of our circumstances, and our human limitations when debating right and wrong.

The Pope made it clear that Catholics are still forbidden to use condoms for contraception.

When the Catholic Church is ready to consider the real lives of women, then theologians will find their way to an ethics that respects the moral agency of women and men in deciding when to take on the awesome responsibility of parenthood. Using a condom or other method of birth control is an act of love for yourself and your family, and an acknowledgement of our power as rational and technologically blessed human beings and the responsibility that comes with it. Teaching young men to respect their power as potential fathers would do more good than teaching them to disrespect women.

Anyway, it doesn’t take Kmareka precognitive powers to see that the Vatican will soon be ‘clarifying’ this perfectly clear, and reasonable statement by the Pope. But there’s a whole suffering world of dis-empowered people behind the wall of dogma, and the Pope allowed a breach. It’s going to take a boatload of theological double talk to patch it over.

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8 responses

  1. I am a strong proponent of birth control,whether with a condom or other means.
    That said,what is your problem with imprisonment?
    Are you seriously suggesting that there aren’t a lot of people with a propensity and history of dangerous criminal behavior?
    Or people so crazy that they are likely to cause serious physical harm to others?
    Let’s see-in your ideal society no one could own a firearm for self defense and no one would be locked up.
    Dream on.
    Thankfully,there are very few people who share your opinion.
    Or have I misinterpreted what you’ve said here?
    If I have,my apologies.
    BTW “zero tolerance”is a nebulous term,and policies based on it usually are ineffective and burdensome.It allows for a lazy-minded jettisoning of reason.

  2. Hi Nancy, I was wondering when you were going to talk about this, and indeed you put it all in perspective. Obs, I think Nancy lives enough in the real world that she knows we need prisons; however, prisons that actually rehabilitate people and help them change the entire energy and direction of their lives have yet to be invented. It happens sometimes, but does not appear to be the norm.

    1. I KNOW Nancy isn’t some ivory tower “intellectual”and that’s why I asked the question.I wouldn’t even bother with someone who lived their live in the cocoon of academia.
      Prisons that rehabilitate?Are you serious?You-the person that had a fit over a fight in the middle of the night a few blocks from where you work?
      Think about that.
      Prisons can’t rehabilitate psycohpaths or plain human garbage like the Connecticut home invaders.All it can do is contain them.
      Have you ever been a crime victim?
      Who rehabilitates a rape victim or a person who’s been viciously assaulted for no reason?(I don’t consider needing money to get high a reason).
      If rehabilitation happens in prison it’s because the inmate makes that decision.Social engineers are totally useless in that regard.

  3. I think prison should be used only for people who have done harm to others and are likely to re-offend. For drug offenders who do not have a history of violence there has to be a better answer. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be penalties for ‘non-violent’ crimes. There can be a lot of harm done without getting physical. But paying to incarcerate a million Americans is bad use of resources.
    Anyway, I was only saying that the ‘zero tolerance war on drugs’ is still being waged, but we are not winning.

    1. I agree on non violent drug offenders.It’s a waste of space.
      Drug traffickers deal in violence routinely,even oftentimes indirectly.
      Plus they make enormous untaxed profits.
      I think we shouldn’t ruin a person’s life with a felony charge for some personal use amount of ANY drug.
      NY has a sensibly graded drug law-there are a couple of misdemeanor level charges for simple possession.
      RI has to make everything except grass a felony.Totally counterproductive.I spent 9 years full-time in the “drug war”.Shovelling s**t against the tide if you ask me.I did appreciate neighborhood feedback when we shut down operations that endangered everyone.
      Okay,so you actually do have a sensible idea of who needs to be in prison.
      Community service is a good alternative for non-violent people.
      This is not a subject that can be discussed in five minutes.It took me a while to get a degree in the subject and years of experience to obtain a good understanding of it.
      Like nursing.
      You do realize that even prisons have prisons within to protect inmantes and staff.

  4. I had a chance to take some classes with some nurses who work at the ACI.

  5. Although strongly agreeing with Fr John also ; I find his ‘disagreement’ with His Holiness somewhat amphibolic and specious.

  6. [...] Pope Considers Harm Reduction [...]

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