Marriage for mentally handicapped call
by Christopher Howse
MARRIAGE for mentally handicapped people is investigated in a new study compiled by Fr David Wilson, director of Westminster diocese's Pastoral Office for Handicapped People.* Fr Wilson commented: "There are many people, not merely among Catholics, who are disturbed by some modern theories in the field of the sexual life of mentally handicapped people," Among the contributions to Fr Wilson's published symposium, is a call from Fr Michael Azzopardi, who runs two homes For mentally handicapped children and young adults, to stop regarding mentally handicapped people as less than human.
He writes: "What is unethical to a normal person should for no reason whatsoever be considered as a possible norm of life for the mentally subnormal. What is for mally wrong for a normal person should not become materially good for the subnormal. Let us all tolerate by all means in the mentally retarded actions and habits that are considered unethical in the case of a normal person; but not definitely propose and consecrate these actions."
The conditions under which 'mentally handicapped couples ought to be allowed to marrry are discussed by Joseph De Vizia. He says: "Scripture implies that the essence of marriage is per manence, unity, fidelity and com munity. These characteristics are also the essential characteristics of a meaningful relationship in which all retarded individuals can participate, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the person's ability. "As the individuals become capable of demonstrating per manence, or the process of enduring in a relationship with another person for a period of time, unity; or the at one-ness with each other, as seen in the individual's mutual growth; fidelity, while displaying permanence in a relationship, the resulting intimacy brings about a fidelity to each other; then it becomes increasingly clear that the individuals who are involved have the capability to participate in a meaningful relationship. This, combined with their willingness to marry, should be sufficient for them to be married in the Church."
The dangers of human experimentation on the mentally handicapped by medical innovators are outlined in the same booklet by Fr Thomas Bodkin, OSM. "With the prospect of exciting new advances in medicine there is the danger that the mentally handicapped person will fall victim to exploitation in the area of 'human experimentation," he said.
"Research initiated with the intention and reasonable likelihood of benefit to the 'person' is usually justified by most scientists, and moralists if the necessary consent is given. Nevertheless, the selection of mentally handicapped persons as subjects for therapeutic research may be discriminatory."
* Love Marriage and Justice in the Lives of Mentally Handicapped People from Si Joseph's Centre, The Burroughs Hendon, London NW4.