By Hilary White

OTTAWA/TORONTO, September 14, 2006 ( – The decision of St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Humboldt, Saskatchewan to permanently cancel tubal ligation sterilizations has generated a furor in the local media and within the medical community. Dr. Daniel Kirchgesner, a Humboldt family physician, made the claim on local radio that sterilization is an “inherent right for women.”

Catholic ethicists and health care providers, however, are responding to what they consider unfounded and overblown rhetoric that fails to take into account the actual reasons for the Church’s ethics teachings.

Apart from its contraceptive aspect, Toronto’s Dr. John Shea, who is Catholic and a medical advisor to Canada’s national pro-life lobby, Campaign Life Coalition, said there is no medical justification for tubal ligation. On the contrary, he said, as a surgical procedure, ligation itself can be a medical danger. Some authorities say the risk of an ectopic pregnancy is 20 times greater after tubal ligation.Â

“There’s no disease for which ligation would be a treatment,” Shea told “Far from being an innocuous procedure, in fact, tubal ligation can involve dangerous complications such as infections, hemorrhage and damage to the bowel, bladder or uterus.”

Shea said that talk of “rights” was overblown rhetoric meant to instill ideological, rather than medical opinion. “The modern world thinks you have a right to suicide, to abortion, so it’s not a stretch to think that some would think this a right too.”

“The people who talk that way about ‘women’s rights’, regard pregnancy as a disease to be prevented,” Shea said, “but even so, ligation cannot be considered an immediate necessity in which an hour’s drive to another hospital might be a health threat.”

James Roche, the Vice-President of Advocacy and Public Policy for the Catholic Health Association of Canada, told he concurs, saying that there is no reputable line of thought that asserts there is such a thing as a “right” to sterilization.

Michelle Boulva, spokesman for the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, explained that Catholic teaching on sterilization is meant to safeguard the integrity of the family.

Sterilization and contraception, Boulva said, “undermine the nature and purpose of marriage and sexuality. It goes against the dignity of sexual relations as intended by our Creator.”
“They prevent the total gift of self because it excludes from it their potential for fertility. That’s the real reason for the Church’s prohibition. It has nothing to do with women’s rights, it’s to do with love.”

Speaking to from Ottawa, Boulva said that sterilization, because of its popularity as “safe” and permanent, can be cited as one reason for Canada’s disastrously declining birth rate. “We know that it is more and more promoted around the world as a method of ‘family planning,’ which just means controlling births.”

Given the recent case of Marc Hall – in which the Ontario courts forced the Durham Catholic School Board to allow a homosexual student to take his male partner to the prom – Catholic health care advocates are worried there is a danger that official public tolerance for Catholic moral conscience is shakey at best.

The CHAC’s Roche, told that his organization had some concerns that the St. Elizabeth’s case could lead to an untenable conflict between Catholic hospitals and health care providers and government.

“There have been cases in the US,” he said, “where the conflict over secular ideas have clashed with Catholic health ethics and the hospitals have lost their status as hospitals.”

Boulva said that COLF commends St. Elizabeth’s for making the decision. “One thing is sure, that as a doctor, you have a right in conscience to refrain from doing an act which he thinks is wrong.” Boulva said she could think of no reason why that principle should not apply to Catholic health institutions.

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