Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.

The unavoidably human aspect of human sexuality

Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
By Rebecca Oas Ph.D.
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June 15, 2012 (Zenit.org) – It could be said that the common enemy of the diet industry and the junk food industry is self-control.

Information from the World Health Organization indicates that global obesity has doubled since 1980[1], which suggests that self-control is not winning the fight. Many tactics have been attempted to curb this trend, due to the heavy cost of obesity, both to the individual’s health and the society’s health care system. Educational programs have been implemented to teach children good habits early in life, taxes have been levied against foods deemed to be nutritionally lacking, and restrictions have been placed on where and how such foods can be accessed. A recent attempt to ban the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in New York City drew intense scrutiny, although it ultimately failed to pass into law. Meanwhile, popular diets lure people to join programs promising quick results “without dieting or exercise,” to quote a common slogan.

While psychologists tout the benefits of self-control and suggest that it can be increased through practice, it’s easy to see why campaigns to improve societal health don’t focus on this angle, and not only because impulsive consumption provides economic stimulus. Self-control, self-denial, and a willingness to forego immediate gratification are fundamentally moral concepts. A recent column in Time Magazine presented the notion that self-control, as highlighted during Lent, has benefits beyond the spiritual, referring to this as “the open secret of all religions”[2]. Nonetheless, even if you manage to convince people that self-control has its advantages, developing it in a society that emphasizes convenience, sensory pleasure, and material acquisition is an uphill battle.

One of the central difficulties in the field of public health is the fact that influencing large populations of people to make healthier choices is extremely difficult. This struggle is echoed in the realm of morality as well – both priests and medical doctors know that the advice they give in a confessional or examination room may fail to be effective when met with a lack of compliance on the part of the penitent or patient.

Nowhere is the uneasy association of public health and public morality more fraught with controversy than in the area of sexual behavior. While religious teachings, such as those of the Catholic faith, focus on self-control and a view of human sexuality in the context of the divine plan, public health officials focus on pragmatism, arguing that people will engage in potentially risky behavior regardless of the consequences, particularly when the behavior presents immediate sensory rewards. Public health advocates pay nominal tribute to the fact that reserving sexuality for a faithful and committed marriage affords the optimal outcomes both for the sexual health of the individual and the long-term well-being of the resulting children, but are then quick to point out that many people do not live according to this standard, even among those who claim to uphold it, and cite studies linking increased emphasis on abstinence-only education with increased rates of unintended pregnancy among teenagers[3].

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The gap between “ideal” and “typical” behavior exists among users of contraceptives as well as those who aspire to be abstinent. A recent survey of women who identify themselves as being sexually active and desiring reversible contraception measures revealed that the women overestimated the effectiveness of the contraceptives, especially those which rely more heavily on human compliance, such as condoms, pills, injections, patches, and rings[4]. In fact, nearly 60% of participants overestimated the ability of these measures to prevent an unintended pregnancy, a fact which the study’s authors attributed in part to the information contained in the manufacturer’s packaging of these products, which report failure rates with the assumption of perfect use.

It is worth pointing out that this survey was conducted as part of a program designed to promote the use of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), including intrauterine devices and implants. Another study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that approximately half of unintended pregnancies are attributable to contraceptive failure, emphasizing human error as the primary cause, again proposing LARC methods as the best solution[5]. However, the effort to promote the use of LARC methods may come at a cost: a recent report in the British Medical Journal indicates that non-oral contraceptives, including LARC methods, as well as contraceptive rings, carry a higher risk of serious blood clots than the pill, and the accompanying press release urged women to consider switching to oral contraceptives[6].

The idea that humans are not perfectly consistent or reliable is certainly no new revelation: the fallen nature of man is a central teaching of Christianity, and our capacity for error is unavoidably evident to religious and non-religious people alike. So it should come as no surprise that people often fail at both abstinence and contraception, in much the same way as we often fail to exercise moderation when we eat. But where the religious and the secular world diverge is in the response after a failure occurs. Within the Catholic Church can be found methods to grow in virtues like self-control, the Sacrament of Confession for when we fall, and a spirit of gratitude and welcome for new life, even when its arrival is unintended. In contrast, the secular world, having long-since abandoned sexual self-control, can only view unintended pregnancy as a tragedy, and one to be avoided by adopting forms of contraception that place a woman at increased risk of life-threatening blood clots, for the sake of avoiding maternity.

In the United States, there has been widespread controversy regarding the sex education curricula presented in public schools, with some favoring “abstinence-only” education and others touting a more comprehensive approach. Critics of “abstinence-only” education object to its moralistic tone, exemplified by the language in its definition that condemns all extramarital sexual activity[7]. While some might argue that this standard, which derives from Judeo-Christian morality, should not be part of a curriculum presented to students who may or may not embrace that worldview, the separation of public health and public morality into discrete boxes is apparently only desirable when it curtails the establishment of moral standards. When Pope Benedict XIV reiterated the Church’s stance against barrier methods of contraception in 2009, it ignited a huge controversy, partly due to the tendency of many news outlets to take his words out of context, but also because he challenged the notion that condoms are the best solution to the worldwide AIDS epidemic. In fact, he went further; lost in the media tempest regarding condoms was his plea for the “humanization of sexuality”[8].

The Holy Father’s words call us back to the recognition that humans are endowed with intelligence and free will[9], and while this means we are capable of falling, it also means we are able to succeed and improve ourselves through the development of virtue. However, the harmony that exists within the Church’s teachings on human sexuality cannot be replicated outside of a framework that acknowledges the importance of self-control, the procreative aspect of human sexuality, and the value of human life at all stages. Only when we acknowledge the harms caused by lust and gluttony can we fully appreciate the benefits of chastity and temperance, and only when we embrace self-mastery can we know both its difficulty and its desserts.

(1) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/

(2) http://ideas.time.com/2012/02/23/lent-and-the-science-of-self-denial/

(3) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0024658

(4) Eisenberg DL, Secura GM, Madden TE, Allsworth JE, Zhao Q, Peipert JF. Knowledge of contraceptive effectiveness. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2012 Jun;206(6):479

(5) Winner B, Peipert JF, Zhao Q, Buckel C, Madden T, Allsworth JE, Secura GM. Effectiveness of long-acting reversible contraception. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2012 May 24;366(21):1998-2007.

(6) http://www.bmj.com/press-releases/2012/05/09/study-adds-evidence-clot-risks-non-oral-contraceptives

(7) http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title05/0510.htm

(8) http://www.zenit.org/rssenglish-31026

(9) http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p4.htm#311

This article originally appeared on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

LifeSiteNews staff
By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

Tony Gosgnach
By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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