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The Thomist 70 (2006): 27-69 THE MORALITY OF CONDOM USE BY HIV-INFECTED SPOUSES1 JANET E. SMITH Sacred Heart Major Seminary Detroit, Michigan THE ARGUMENT THAT there are times when it is moral to use condoms to reduce the risk of transmitting the HIV has recently resurfaced, this time from a surprising source: Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, a philosopher who is no dissenter from Church teaching. In several recent publications he has attempted to determine the morality of the use of condoms to reduce the risk of transmitting the HIV.2 The Church has no explicit teaching on this matter. Certainly, it teaches that contraception is always wrong and Rhonheimer agrees with that teaching. He seeks to determine if use of the condom by HIV-infected spouses is intrinsically evil. Rhonheimer rightly observes that condoms themselves are not intrinsically evil-they are just things and they may have moral as well as immoral uses. It is the use of devices and chemicals as contraceptives that makes them immoral-not their very existence nor every use. He argues that condoms can never morally be used for contraceptive purposes but that there are other moral uses for condoms, even when they have a contraceptive effect. He supports the Church's teaching that married couples may never 1 I received very helpful comments on this essay from Mark Lowery, Mark Latkovic, Steven Long, Bill Murphy, Ed Peters, and Fr. Peter Fagan. Father Rhonheimer also graciously read an early version of the essay and provided very useful comments. 2 His first article on this subject was "The Truth about Condoms," The Tablet, 10 July 2004. A fuller statement of his position can be found in "A Debate on Condoms and AIDS," The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 5 (2005): 40-48. 27 28 JANET E. SMITH use devices and chemicals as contraceptives. But he maintains that promiscuous people, sexually active homosexuals, and prostitutes, all of whom are at risk of spreading or contracting the HIV, would be showing a "certain sense of responsibility" were they to use condoms. He does not say that it is moral for them to use condoms, only that it may be less vicious for them to do so than not. Most significant and controversial is his argument that an HIVinfected spouse could morally use a condom for the purpose of reducing the risk of infection. He argues that such an act does not violate the condemnation of contraception laid out in Humanae vitae. He argues that HIV-infected spouses would not be using a condom as a contraceptive. Thus, they would not be using an evil means, that is, performing an evil act, to achieve a good end. Rather, these spouses would be tolerating the contraceptive effect of the condom as a side effect. In this essay I will explain my reasons for rejecting Rhonheimer's condusion.3 The differences between Rhonheimer and myself go beyond a difference on how to assess the morality of the use of a condom by an HIV-infected spouse. Indeed, it derives not from a disagreement about the truth of the Church's teaching on contraception, for there we agree, but on how one properly determines the goodness or badness of a moral action. Here is not the place to give a full response to Rhonheimer's method of moral analysis, but the attentive reader will realize that we disagree on some of the fundamentals of moral analysis.4 3 Several other responses to Rhonheimer are available; see a letter to the editor by William May, The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 4 (2004): 667-68; Fr. Benedict Guevin, in "A Debate on Condoms and AIDS," The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 5 (2005): 3739 ; Peter J. Cataldo, "Condoms and HIV Prevention: Thwarting the Procreative End," Ethics and Medics 30, no. 5 (May 2005): 3-4; Luke Gormally, "Marriage and the Prophylactic Use of Condoms," The National Catholics Bioethics Quarterly 5 (2005): 735-49. 4 Rhonheimer's most recent formulation of his understanding of the moral object is "The Perspective of the Acting Person and the Nature of Practical Reason: The 'Object of the Human Act' in Thomistic Anthropology ofAction," Nova et Vetera 2 (2004): 461...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 27-69
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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