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Condoms as Weapons of Self Defence

… to defend one’s own innocent life, one can even kill an aggressor. If the aggressor has the Ebola virus, flu, or AIDS and wants to kill me, I must defend myself. If he wants to kill me with AIDS, I must defend myself from AIDS. How do I defend myself? With the most appropriate means. I must decide. If it is a club, with a club. If it is a pistol, with a pistol. And with a condom? Yes, if it is effective in defending me, in this case of unjust aggression.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán

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This is part of an answer of the President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers to a question put by a journalist and reported in Zenit, the Catholic news agency, for 4 th February 2005 under the by-line Cardinal Expands Debate on Condom Use.

The doctrine of self defence requires an imminent act of violence against one’s life. The act of self defence is itself an act of violence elicited by the imminent act of the aggressor.

Into the categories of instrument which might be used to counter an imminent act of violence––a club, a pistol––the Cardinal introduces something which could never be so used, a piece of flaccid rubber tubing! Why? That he may hijack the reasoning surrounding the doctrine of self defence to his own ends.

What is a condom? A prosthesis is an artificial part designed to assist the body to perform its natural functions or to supply for a defect in the body. Its licitness is guaranteed by its ordination for the good of the body. Of such sort are false teeth, spectacles, and artificial limbs. A condom is a sort of anti-prosthesis, designed to interfere with the way God has made our bodies. It follows that the very use of such a thing as it is designed is intrinsically evil.

How is the Cardinal to get around the embargo on such usage? By pleading necessity. Any port in a storm: any weapon for self defence. He must show, then, that this is self defence. Let us analyse the process.

For the doctrine of self defence to apply in circumstances where the victim uses an instrument in his defence three things are needed––

1. an imminent act of violence by an aggressor against the life of the victim;

2. a reaction by the victim which at least threatens the life of the aggressor;

3. in the course of which he makes use of the instrument.

What is the imminent act of violence by the aggressor here? Is it rape? Is it only threatened intercourse by one infected with AIDS? The Cardinal leaves the issue obscure.

What is the act of self defence on the part of the victim which threatens the life of the aggressor? There is none. After raising this element of the doctrine, the Cardinal turns it about, transmutes it into an act whereby the victim protects his or her own life. There is no threat to the aggressor. Indeed, the ‘aggressor’ is revealed, not as any person, but as the AIDS virus itself!

What is the instrument used by the victim to threaten the life of the aggressor? There is none.

Let us assume––to reduce the thing to the absurd––that the instrument the victim uses is a condom. He, or she, is threatened with imminent violence. Does he, or she, raise the condom in self defence thereby giving the aggressor pause? No. Is he, or she, going to impose a condom on the aggressor by violence? No. The very suggestion is laughable.

There is not a word in the Cardinal’s answer about the Church’s doctrine condemning formal cooperation in evil. Not a word about the fact that the use of such an instrument breaches the Church’s teaching against contraception.

The error in his thinking is the same error, the same furphy, that has bedevilled Catholic moral teaching for more than 30 years, the exalting of the subsidiary principle of harm minimisation at the expense of the rule of morals.

Michael Baker