By Dominick Coyle
MASSACHUSETTS is not the only place to view the growing controversy in America on the birth-control issue, but it is probably one of the better places.
One of its favourite sons, John F. Kennedy, is the first Roman Catholic President of the United States; another greatly admired son of Massachusetts is Dr. John Rock.
Rock.clinical pro lessor (emeri tus) of gynaecology, Harvard University, and now director of The Rock Reproductive Clinic, Inc.. has lately had his widely-debated book published. "The Time Has Come. a Catholic doctor's proposals to end the battle over birth control," has given added fuel to the glowing fire of public discussion in America on the whole birth-control issue.
Within days of the publication of Rock's book, Richard, Cardinal Cushing. of Boston, criticised the doctor's blending of medical science and theology and unfavourable comment on the book appeared in "The Pilot", the Boston Diocesan weekly newspaper.
To complete the picture is the fact that Massachusetts is today only one of two remaining States (Connecticut being the other one) where anti-birth-control laws exist, albeit laws which are constantly and continually broken.
Under the Kennedy Administration the official U.S. policy on birth-control. in so far as it is tied up with foreign aid. has altered, although understandably without too much publicity being invited.
Less than a year ago the President appointed a special officer in the State Department to "maintain a continuing and active interest in the world population problem" and last December the following statement was made by William Nunley, a special assistant to the UnderSecretary of State for Economic Affairs: "We are prepared to consider on their merits certain types of requests for assistance to other governments. In fact. we have already begun to advise and assist a few governments in their efforts to acquire additional knowledge about their own population problems."
This statement came exactly three years after the then President Eisenhower said: "This government will not .
as Tong as I am here, have a positive political doctrine in its programme that has to do with this problem of birth-control. That's not our business."
The fact that this fundamental change in American policy could be made, and implemented, with little fuss, is an indication of the altering temper of large sections of the American people on the birthcontrol issue.
Certainly. the first years of this decade have brought a new outlook to any discussion on the whole topic. In cities across America. both clergy and laity are increasingly joining in public debate and discussion on a subject which, scarcely ten years earlier, was considered taboo.
Editors are providing more space to this dialogue, which stems particularly from two factors: "Good Pope John", and the crisis presented by soaring birth rates and the increasing problem of parents to adequately maintain, house and educate a large number of children.
While the late Pontiff himself didn't pronounce strongly and directly on the subject of birthcontrol, he did "let some fresh air into the Church". With the fresh air has come debate and debate on a vital subject.
In the miclist of this public debate came Dr. Rock's book, a series of articles on "Catholics and Birth Control" in the influential New York Times, and conflicting personal opinions, and action, from
liarious religious leaders in the United States.
Rock himself has bcen criticised, both for his writings and his dedicated research in the field of fertility. Anyone who has met him, as I have. can hardly fail to be impressed by the tremendous genuineness of this man. In his foreword to -The Time Has Come", Christian Herter. a former U.S. Secretary of State. accurately paints the man. thus: -A Roman Catholic immensely devoted to his Church, a physician more than nominally loyal to his Hippocratic Oath. he is a gynaecologist. whose concern for the health of his patients and their families led him to become a key participant in the development of the world's first efficient oral contraceptive."
Such a man indeed is John Rock, whose fundamental aim in writing this book has been to spell out, as he sees it, his Church's attitude on birth-control, and to urge that additional research commence immediately to discover and/or perfect means of family planning compatible to the religious, social and psychological needs of all.
In this he has not been wholly unsuccessful. Last July. at the (Catholicl Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., the new "Centre for Population Research" got under way, fully approved by
the University's President, Rev. Edward /3. Bunn. and mostly financed by funds from both the University and the Ford Foundation.
These Georgetown researchers have a mandate for a three-year programme. Although it is envisaged that they'll work on topics of special interest to Catholics, the work will not be confined to this sphere. The guiding blueprint says:
"There is need to foster research on the whole range of questions connected with human population, whether or not they have any particular connection with Catholicism."
A similar attempt at Georgetown four years ago got nowhere, essentially because the pioneer of the idea, Dr. Benedict J. Duffy, died and because, in November of that year. the American bishops at their annual meeting condemned thc dissemination of information on contraceptives. Their action, said a New York Tinies report, "dampened ecclesiastical support for any project associated with birth-control".
Meanwhile, the situation in both Massachusetts and Connecticut remains unchanged. The dissemination of any literature—which could mean a doctor's prescription—on birth-control is against the law, a law applying alike to Catholics and Protestants.
Several attempts to change the Massachusetts law have failed. always through lack of a voting majority. A test case. on appeal, is still before the courts in Connecticut—arising out of the operation of a public family-planning clinic in New Haven—and it is anticipated that the U.S. Supreme Court will once again have an opportunity of ruling on this thorny subject.
But the confusions — of laws, consciences, and Catholic utterances — remain. The situation, in unfortunate fact, doesn't change. In the 'American Catholic Sociological Review', the Rev. Thomas Casey. wrote: "I have no reasons to doubt the scientific validity of one study that shows that, for Catholic couples who are married for at least ten years and who are still fecund and thus likely to have more children. one out of two of them have practised a method of birth limitation forbidden by the Church . . ."
Research men like Dr. Rock believe that if their work can get ahead. if the requisite money for it can conic from the current controversy on the whole issue of birthcontrol, then all people—and not only Catholics—may well benefit.
If the so-called "kitchen-test", a means of making the 'rhythm method' accurate and reliable. and simple to determine, can be established. then non-Catholics as well as Catholics would be indeed grateful.
No form of contraceptive, even used by those to whom it is not forbidden by their religion, is psychologically perfect: there is a grave medical doubt about many of them.