Therapeutic Uses of the Pill: Asking the Right Question

A Franciscan and a Jesuit were friends. They were both smokers who found it difficult to pray for a long period of time without having a cigarette. They decided to go to their superiors and ask permission to smoke.

When they met again, the Franciscan was downcast. “I asked my superior if I could smoke while I pray and he said ‘no,’” he said.

The Jesuit smiled. “I asked if I could pray while I smoke. He said ‘of course.’”

(Read more Jesuit jokes here)

I love Jesuit jokes. They tend to illustrate the absurdities of intellectual Catholics, and we all know how much I wish that I were both intellectual and Catholic!

I really like this joke in particular because it reminds us of the importance of asking the correct question, even as it mocks manipulation of others with incorrect questions.

Devout Catholics frequently ask the wrong question when it comes to the therapeutic use of the pill. They ask whether it is permissible for a married woman to use the pill for therapeutic purposes. This is a rather pointless question because the answer is a fast and easy “Duh! Of course!”

What we should be asking is whether a married couple is permitted to engage in sexual intercourse in circumstances when the woman’s treatments include use of the pill.

This is much more complex and must be answered with the same care that is rightfully  given to all questions closely related to the most important issues of sanctity of life, marital intimacy, and bioethics.

Catholic Fights , ,


  1. You are absolutely right, this is the question people are trying to address when they talk about therapeutic use of the pill. Demanding a married woman abstain from sex with her husband as long as she is undergoing treatment is no small demand, so the matter deserves a lot of thought, and not shoddy science.

  2. waywardson23

    Pope Pius XII answered the question when the Pill first came out in 1958.

    ” Is [the Pill as a medical treatment] allowed to the married woman who, despite this temporary sterility, wishes to have relations with her husband?

    “The intention of the person determines the answer.

    “If the woman takes the medicament, not with the idea of preventing conception, but solely on the advice of her doctor as a necessary remedy for a disorder of the uterus or organism, she is causing an indirect sterilization, which is allowed according to the principle governing acts with a double effect.

    (Unfortunately, the Pope’s full address is only available in Spanish on the Vatican’s website.)

    I think there is an unfortunate assumption that women on the pill for therapeutic reasons are looking for a “loophole” to use the pill. Yes, it’s benefits are oversold and it’s terribly overprescibed. Still, I have learned enough from your blogs and others that women who really need the Pill for therapeutic reasons would much rather not be sick. To demand that they abstain from sex with their husbands while treating their illness borders on cruel.

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