The Vatican updated a ruling on the morality of hysterectomies today.
1993 Ruling on Hysterectomies
The Vatican ruled in 1993 if a hysterectomy can be moral. It is moral “when there is a grave and present danger to the life or health of the mother.” On the other hand, it is immoral “insofar as they are methods of direct sterilization.” It ruled this immorality applied even if a pregnancy would be dangerous for the mother so “the removal of the uterus and tubal ligation (uterine isolation) with the intention of making impossible an eventual pregnancy which can pose some risk for the mother” is still immoral.
Today’s Ruling on Hysterectomies
Today, the Vatican faces the question of what is moral if any pregnancy that would arise would spontaneously abort. This would be a woman unable to carry a baby to viability and done to prevent repeated miscarriages. The question and response:
Question: When the uterus is found to be irreversibly in such a state that it is no longer suitable for procreation and medical experts have reached the certainty that an eventual pregnancy will bring about a spontaneous abortion before the fetus is able to arrive at a viable state, is it licit to remove it (hysterectomy)?
Response: Yes, because it does not regard sterilization.
To answer this, the Vatican also clarified what is meant by procreation.
The precise object of sterilization is to impede the functioning of the reproductive organs, and the malice of sterilization consists in the refusal of children: it is an act against the bonum prolis. On the contrary, in the case considered in the question, it is known that the reproductive organs are not capable of protecting a conceived child up to viability, namely, they are not capable of fulfilling their natural procreative function. The objective [goal not object, which Itlaian clarifies] of the procreative process is to bring a baby into the world, but here the birth of a living fetus is not biologically possible. Therefore, we are not dealing with a defective, or risky, functioning of the reproductive organs, but we are faced here with a situation in which the natural end of bringing a living child into the world is not attainable.
In other words, procreation has as its goal, not simply having a conception but a baby reaching viability.
This clarification – both of when hysterectomies may be moral and of how we define procreation – is helpful for understanding these topics. Hopefully, none of my readers ever have to come to such a decision but now they know the moral path if they do.
Update: clarified the “objective” of procreation.