I learned a lesson with my last post — don’t think out loud on the Internet. People freak out, the Friendly Atheist gets his friendly on, and all sorts. But lesson learned, the upswing of it all is that thanks to the remarkably thoughtful comments and correspondence with people far more intelligent than myself, I can happily say I was wrong in regards to the question of whether a married couple with an HIV-infected individual could have sex with a condom.
The problem that I began thinking of at the end of my last post, the fact that the condom never fully reduces HIV risk, seems to be the problem that sealed the deal (pun in there somewhere?) for most people. And I would agree…almost. Love is desiring the ultimate good of the beloved. Risking the health of your beloved — even if she wants you to — is not to desire her ultimate good.
But this has nothing to do with the contraceptive nature of the condom, and it seems to me that the premise is subjective. For instance, say you have a mild cold. Is it wrong for your spouse, knowing you have a cold, to kiss you, and you her? I don’t think so.
In that kiss you are – technically speaking — risking the health of your beloved. But colds are little things, while kisses are beneficial, ennobling and sanctifying to the human person, and so most of us would see it as no crime against love, to intentionally risk the beloved’s health for a smooch. And so the premise (risking the health of your beloved — even if she wants you to — is not to desire her ultimate good) becomes a matter of degree that hinges on the severity of the disease.
The better argument is simply that this “never-100%” quality of the condom takes away its justification via the principle of Double Effect. This principle states that the good effect (disease prevention) must outweigh the bad effect (contraception) in order for condom use to be licit. It does not state that the probable good effect (which is what the condom actually presents) must outweigh the bad effect. Thus it’s not just that it’s never right to risk the health of your spouse, it’s that the reality of this ever-present risk makes it impossible for your disease-preventing condom-use to outweigh the unintended contraceptive effect…almost.
Even here there is a problem. The condom does not just come with a risk of failure in regards to STD prevention. It comes with a risk of failure in regards to contraception. Much of the counterargument took as an assumption that the condom was only partially reducing your risk of disease, while totally eliminating the chance of you getting pregnant. If this was the case, I’d agree, the matter is clear cut and dried, and condom use in this situation would fail to meet the principle of Double Effect, and would thus be illicit. But condoms are not 100% effective at reducing pregnancy, and thus — like a balanced equation — that “probable” would go on either side of the mandate: The probable good effect (disease prevention) must outweigh the probable bad effect (contraception).
Does it? Now I used Humanae Vitae’s allowance of hormonal contraceptives for medical purposes to reason that it does. I was wrong. As a reader wrote:
While in the case of oral contraceptives taken for medicinal use, the contraceptives are not being taken *in order to have sex,* that cannot be said about the condoms. The “telos” of the condom in this case is dual: not only to avoid disease, but to have sex (in other words, the telos of wearing the condom would be to-avoid-disease-while-having-
Word. The fundamental issue then, is that the condom interrupts the unitive nature of the act. As the reader goes on to write:
My main point is that with condoms, the behavioral conditions of the act aren’t met: it is no longer the type of act that can be ordered toward procreation. To make a baseball analogy, the case of oral contraceptives that are taken to treat a disease, which make a woman infertile when she makes love to her husband, is like a neighborhood baseball team that shows up to play the New York Yankees. They have absolutely no chance of achieving the end of what they are doing (winning the baseball game), but so long as they play according to the rules their play is still ordered toward its proper end. But in the case of the condom, the play itself is changed. It would be like showing up at the game without bats (assuming the other team can’t lend you any), so that even if you have the *intent* of winning a baseball game, what you are doing can’t possibly be ordered toward that end because you are, quite simply, no longer playing baseball.
Now I’m understanding it better. You?