Can condoms be used by married couples if one spouse is infected with HIV?

There are three fonts of morality: 1. intention, 2. moral object, 3. circumstances.
What makes an act moral? Three good fonts; no bad fonts.

1. The intended end is to prevent the transmission of disease. This is a good intended end. However, it is not the sole intention. The couple could prevent disease transmission by refraining from sexual acts. They intend to choose one path over another, choosing to attain this good end by one means, rather than another, by the means of the use of condoms, knowing that this intended means closes the sexual act to life. For the font of intention to be good, all that is intended must be moral. The intention to attain a good end, by an immoral means, is not a good intention.

When Pope Benedict XVI indicated, in extemporaneous remarks to a journalist, that the intention to prevent disease transmission, in the case of condom use by a male prostitute, is good, he did not imply that the font of intention in such a case is good. The prostitute also intends to commit illicit sexual acts as well as the sin of prostitution. Obviously the Pontiff was not approving of the entire intention, with all its elements, but only of that one element, to prevent disease transmission. And just as obviously, one good element in part of the intention, cannot justify the entire act.

2. The moral object is the proximate end, in terms of morality, toward which the act itself, by its very nature, is inherently directed. An evil moral object makes the act intrinsically evil, because the act is ordered toward the attainment of an evil end. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. But if there is only good in the moral object, then the act by its nature is ordered toward only good; such an act is good in itself.

The moral object in this case is not the prevention of disease transmission. That good end is in the intention; the prevention of disease transmission is the purpose for which the act was chosen. The moral object is the inherent ordering of the intentionally chosen act toward its proximate end. In this case, the couple is not choosing an act that is ordered toward the prevention of disease transmission. If they were to decide to refrain from all sexual relations, this decision would be inherently ordered toward the good moral object of the prevention of disease transmission. Instead, they have chosen to have contracepted sexual relations. They chose to contracept the sexual act for the purpose of preventing disease transmission, but the act that they intentionally chose is contracepted sexual relations.

The moral species of an act is not changed by the purpose for which the act was chosen. If they had committed the very same act, natural intercourse using a condom, for a different purpose, such as to prevent conception, the moral object would be the same. The intention (intended end or purpose) is in the first font; the moral object is in the second font. Neither intention nor circumstances can transform an intrinsically evil act into a good act.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).” (CCC, n. 2399).

Pope John Paul II: “Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act, intrinsically evil by virtue of its object, into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81.)

Although sinful secular society has convinced many Catholic Christians that they have no choice in life except to have as much sex as possible, from the point of view of moral theology, there is a choice, and that choice is always subject to the eternal moral law. Some choices to have sexual relations are sinful choices. All secular ideas to the contrary not withstanding. In some cases a married couple must refrain from all sexual acts, due to grave circumstances. The prevention of the transmission of a disease that is incurable and fatal is certainly such a grave reason. Both the end and the means must be good. A good end does not justify an evil means.

3. The circumstances are evaluated based on the moral weight of the good and bad consequences of the intentionally chosen act. A person chooses an act with the knowledge that acts have consequences, and that the act in question can be reasonably anticipated to have particular consequences. If the reasonably anticipated good consequences morally outweigh the bad, then the circumstances are good. If the reasonably anticipated bad consequences morally outweigh the good, then the intentional choice of that act is a sin.

The reasonably anticipated good consequences include that the couple can have marital relations, and that the transmission of disease is less likely. However, when evaluating the consequences of an act, we must always consider whether there is a different choice, a different act, that can accomplish the same good consequences with fewer, or with no bad consequences.

For example, if the military in a just war attacks an enemy military installation, perhaps the act will be moral despite the reasonably anticipated bad consequence of some civilian deaths. But such would not be the case if the military had another means to attack the same target, with the same good results, and no civilian deaths.

In this case, the use of a condom certainly does not reduce the possibility of disease transmission to zero. Condoms are said to be 98% effective in preventing pregnancy with ‘correct use’, but only 85% effective with ‘typical use’. (Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University) A woman can only conceive during a fertile window lasting approx. 6 days per cycle. But disease transmission is possible at any time in the cycle. The likelihood of HIV transmission, for natural intercourse, varies according to different factors, but, according to the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project, can be as high as 1 in 10. By comparison, a couple having natural intercourse on the day of ovulation has about the same 1 in 10 chance of conceiving.

The conclusion is that, even with the use of condoms, a significant risk of disease transmission remains. And this particular disease is generally incurable and fatal. But the same good effect of preventing disease can be obtained with essentially zero risk of transmission by refraining from sexual acts. Therefore, the moral evaluation of the use of condoms in marriage to prevent disease, even considering only the font of circumstances, makes the act gravely immoral. The risk of grave bad consequences greatly outweighs the good of being able to have marital relations with some risk of transmission remaining.

What makes an act moral? Three good fonts; no bad fonts.
In this case, the intention, the moral object, and the circumstances are each bad.
Even one bad font makes an act immoral. But this act has three bad fonts.
Therefore, the use of condoms in marriage to prevent HIV transmission is gravely immoral.

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