BY A STAFF REPORTER
PROPOSALS for a ministry of population, contraception on the National Health Service and other measures in a government report were sharply criticised by a bishop and by other groups this week.
Bishop Harris, auxiliary of Liverpool, and President of the Social Welfare Commission of England and Wales, said the fifth report of the Select Cornmittee on Science and Technology marked a step towards the "manipulated society."
The Committee's report had criticised Sir Keith Joseph, Secretary of Health, for his "leisurely and disinterested attitude to the question of population growth."
Bishop Harris said the committee had "raised the whole question of the distinction between private and collective decision." He said that responsible parenthood must remain the ultimate responsibility of the parents. Attention paid to quantity rather than quality of life was misleading and the latest British population growth estimate was 1 million less than thq, predicted in 1965. Bishop Harris said "I certainly agree with Sir Keith Joseph that public health services must not dictate, but are there to advise and assist people to make their own private decisions."
Mrs. Frances Morriss Secretary of the National Association for the Protection of Family Life said the advice of the report if accepted "would face Catholics in particular with the biggest crisis of conscience for years."
"I for one am not prepared to pay rates towards a practice I consider immoral," she said, criticising the report's suggestion that contraception be part of the National Health Service.
She thought all methods of contraception might be within the scope of the National Health Service but "should be restricted to married couples or engaged couples just before marriage."
She also criticised "assumptions" in the report on population growth. The Registrar General's latest figures showed the replacement rate in Britain was now only 2.25 children per couple, she said.
The minimum replacement rate needed to keep the population at its present level was 2.4 children per couple.
The two major anti-abortion organisations also criticised the potential threat posed by a population ministry. Mrs. Phyllis Bowman, Press Officer, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the Society was "totally opposed to imposed family planning." It could lead not only to abortion on demand, but compulsory abortion and even sterilisation. she said.
Mr. Martin Mears, Secretary of Life, said he believed the Committee making the report had allowed themselves to be stampeded by the myth of a population explosion. (Compulsory birth control— page 4)
Compulsory birth-control next?
THE fifth report from the
Select Committee on Science and Technology has hit the headlines. It has a great deal of importance for all citizens, and particularly for Catholics. I cannot deal with it comprcbensively. There is neither time nor space for that. All 1 can do is offer a few comments.
The report occupies only 19 short paragraphs-21 pages of print. It is compiled by the Select Committee of M.P.s on Population Policy in the United Kingdom. It is derived from evidence from Mr. Robert Carr, then Lord President of the Council; Mr. C. R. Ross, chairman of the Population Panel set up by the Government; Sir Keith Joseph, and Sir George Godber.
An appendix gives up-todate tables of population trends. All this occupies the remainder of the 47 pages. There is no time or space to deal with the evidence here, so I shall confine myself to the report itself.
The appendix reveals that the population rose by 2.7 million, or 5.1 per cent, between 1961 and 1971, when it stood at 55.7 million. This was 0.4 million less than expected, The birth-rate has declined from 980,000 in 1966 to a provisional 870,000 in 1972 -the lowest figure given since 1956. The illegitimacy rate, at 8.2 per cent, has remained steady for the last five years, but is nearly double that of 1956 (4.7 per cent).
The fertility rate for families is 2.3 per cent, a slight reduction on the expected figure of 2.4 per cent (the estimated replacement figure).
The net loss by migration was 34,000. and is expected to reach 50.000. This means that 50,000 more will leave the country than come in.
The estimated population in the year 2000 was set at 66 million two years ago. Because of the downward trend in the figures the present estimate is 63 million.
The first 16 paragraphs deal in general with aspects of the evidence, and in particular with the statement that the Government apparently has no particular feeling of urgency and no plans to deal with the population problem.
The last three paragraphs give the Committee's recommendations, and are worth giving in full: 17..We therefore repeat the recommendation made in our First Report in May 1971 that, as an integral and permanent part of the machinery of Government, a Special Office should be set up to advise the Government on population policy. The evidence we have recently taken shows that the duties which we suggested for such. an office are even more necessary today than when we first reported.
18. We recommend that, in view of the evidence given by the lord President of the Council regarding his responsibility for population matters, the Prime Minister should give further consideration to the appointment of a Minister primarily charged with responsibility for population policy.
19. We recommend that the Government should take immediate steps to provide comprehensive family planning and birth control services as a normal part of the National Health Service.
Is there a problem? Does this problem affect only this country? Should we have a policy for population con
trol? • 1 he Committee states that there is a problem. They clearly feel that this island is already over-populated, and that an increase of a further eight million will aggravate the problem. in the short run, implying that it will get progressively worse during the next century.
They are not concerned with other countries, but with this. The under-developed countries have a far steeper graph of population increase than we have.
The problem is not merely finding enough food to go round. We can't feed everybody adequately now. Half the present population of the world is underfed, and the growth in population is outstripping the efforts to increase prodactivity.
Moreover, the very efforts to increase productivity are themselves causing additional difficulties. The larger the world population, the more complex become the means of supplying and distributing the necessities of life.
Conveyor belt industrialisation, not merely in industry itself but also in farming, is becoming more and more necessary both to the survival of the farmer and to the production of enough for 1111.
The highly sophisticates methods of working dehumanise the worker and are rapidly polluting man's environment so that experts predict that before long it will no longer be able to sustain life at all.
It is easy to pick holes in this. The fact is that serious thinkers,' planners and scientiso, look upon the growth in vc orld population as the most serious threat to the very ex
:Vence of mankind on earth.
If these forecasts have any validity at all, none of us, least of all Christians, can sweep them quietly under the cur pet.
In face of a well-founded probability — put it no higher than possibility — that the world may become seriously overpopulated, and perhaps uninhabitable, in thiz. 21st century. we have a duty to examine its moral implications.
Of course a nuclear holocaust would solve that particular problem, though it might cause others. But it is our duty both to avoid the solution of war and to look at any reasonable solutions proposed, among others, by the Select Committee.
Short of nuclear war, overpopulation can be avoided in two ways. By lowering the birth-rate and raising the death-rate. The emphasis of the Report is on lowering the birthrate, which is in fact falling. Seine may see in this the beginning of a decline which may take a lot of stopping -but the Committee feel that since the population at large is still increasing, this fall is not fast enough.
They therefore propose that there should be a Government eolicy on population, with a Minister in charge. As Christians we can have no objection to this. If there is a major problem, there should he planning to solve it.
They also propose that family planning and birth control ". . . serious thinkers, planners and scientists look upon the growth in world population as the most serious threat to the very existence of mankind on earth. If these forecasts have any validity at all. none of us, least of all Christians, can sweep them quietly under the carpet."
services be part of the National Health Service. This of course can only be a first step. As such it is perfectly logical, and we Catholics cannot object to a population policy which aims at checking a dangerous increase in population.
We can't even object to family planning services being made available to all. Pope Paul accepts the principle of iamily planning in Humanae rilfae. We can of course, and do. object to birth-control, woich we consider to be immoral, being on the National Health Service, for which we as taxpayers pay the cost.
But is this all? Assuming that the Government has a policy, with a special Minister responsible for it, and that birth control is on the NHS, end the population still keeps on increasing. what next? And what of the under-developed countries whose problem is so much more acute than ours?
Is this not just a first step towards compulsory birth-control, towards having to have a government licence before you base a baby? This is no fanciful result of a fevered imaaination. We have come more than half the way towards this since the Church of England condemned all birth-control in 1908.
But birth-control by itself is only part of the solution to the problem of the population growth. In the short run it is likely by itself to aggravate the problem, by recucing the proportion of young people in the community compared with the old. The ratio of producers to non-productive consumers is likely to drop.
The logical and inevitable step would then be to agitate for a reduction of the proportion of elderly people, first by voluntary euthanasia and then by compulsory euthanasia. And in my view we aren't so far away from that either.
Certainly we should not sit around and assume that God will solve the problem for us. Human problems need human solutions. not miracles,
If we are convinced that the present proposals are giving solutions — and leading towards further solutions which are morally unacceptable — we have to do two things. Make this clear in no uncertain fashion, and make alternative proposals.
The lobby which has passed so much morally objectionable legislation is a small one. But it is powerful because it is dedicated and well-organised.
What about the Christian community? It is not small. But as for being dedicated and well organised, that's a laugh. Certainly the English bishops' pamphlet on moral problems was a step in the right direction.
But as far as the media are concerned, the Christian position is being defended and proclaimed by people like Norman St. John-Stevas, Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, and Malcolm Muggeridge.
We may not ,Dike the way they re doing it. But at least they are saying and doing something about it. And if we are not to see a Government policy of eugenic engineering more ' far-reaching than Hitler's. we have got to mobilise our forces, mobilise our arguments, and proclaim the truth as we see it.
What truth? I would suggest that we could well begin by (i) facing the problem of population growth as sincerely and as seriously as does the Select Committee; (ii) showing that putting the pill on the rates is not the right way to tackle this problem, either among married people or, far less, among the unmarried: and (iii) finding an alternative policy to meet the population probleM which does not involve either birth-control or euthanasia.
In this context I offer no smart-Alec panacea. There isn't one. But solutions there must be. It is for us to find them. If we can't, we have to leave the field to those who can.
Finally, we Christians have one very obvious contribution to make in this whole context. It is to show up the fallacy underlying the whole birth control lobby. Better knowledge of birth-control methods enables both the married and the unmarried to have sexual relations with impunity.
Is it not time for us to preach in season and out of season that there is an essential place for self-control in human relations? Easy, cheap birthcontrol for the unmarried is merely an additional incentive to use sex as a 'plaything. It isn't.
Surely it is time for us to tell the world that sex is Godgiven, it is a beautiful and .a wonderful thing, but like all God's gifts it has to be used in the right way, and that misuse will only lead in the long run to disaster.