Ethical and Pastoral Dimension of Population Trends Pontifical Council for the Family, March 25, 1994 table of contents introduction Part One demographic realities today chapter I: different trends

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Ethical and Pastoral Dimension of Population Trends

Pontifical Council for the Family, March 25, 1994



Part One



1. Population Growth and Population Geography

2. A “Second Demographic Revolution”

3. The Developing Continents


1. Demographic Growth and Standards of Living

2. Food, Resources and Population

3. Environment and population

Part Two




1. Hormonal Contraception

2. Sterilization

3. Abortion

4. Infanticide
Part Three



1. From John XXIII to Paul VI

2. John Paul II

3. The Dignity of Man and Justice


1. The Contribution of the Social Teaching of the Church

2. For Life and the Family

3. Responsible Choice


1. Correct Knowledge of Realities

2. Family Policy

3. Justice for Women

4. No Possible Compromise

1. Development Resources and Populations

2. Solidarity with the Family


1. In publishing this text, the Pontifical Council for the Family wishes to present points for consideration concerning population realities. The first part of this document examines populations trends. The second part describes attitudes regarding demographic realities. The third part sets out ethical principles in the light of which the Church analyzes these realities. This examination forms the basis for proposing pastoral guidelines.
2. In order to understand concrete situations better, population trends are currently the object of reflection, studies and meetings at international, national and regional levels. This document will help Episcopal Conferences and Catholic organizations to be well-informed on these realities, to draw up guidelines for pastoral action.
3. This working document prepared by the Pontifical Council for the Family is the fruit of patient work, after consultation and dialogue with the specialists such as theologians, pastoral workers and demographers. Its scope is to make persons aware of the values upon which a truly human understanding of demographic realities is founded. These values are the dignity and transcendence of the human person, the importance of the family as the basic cell of society, solidarity between peoples and nations, and that humanity is called to salvation.
Given the Pontifical Council for the Family’s competence in ethical and pastoral fields involving demography, it proposes the present document to help form guidelines for the Church’s pastoral work.

Ethical principles must particularly guide pastoral work in the area of demography because population questions affect the family with regard to the freedom and responsibility of married couples in their task of transmitting life. With realism, the Church recognizes the serious problems linked to population growth, in the forms these take in various parts of the world, with attendant moral implications.1 At the same time, the pastoral work of the Church must take into account different current and future effects of the declining birth rate in many countries. Therefore, one must begin by examining different demographic trends in an objective and dispassionate way.

Part One

Chapter I


4. During this century the world population has grown steadily. It has been estimated for 1993 at 5,506,000,000.2 Population increase must be interpreted in the light of well-identified and thoroughly understood factor. The most important of these factor is completely new in human history: the increase of the average life-span. In many countries the average life-span has more than doubled in a century. This increase results from improved health care conditions and standards of living, from better food production and more efficient policies. In less than two centuries, we have witnessed an almost general lowering of infant mortality rate, by more than 90% in many countries. At the same time the maternal mortality rate has also fallen in unprecedented proportions.

1. Population Growth and Population Geography

5. The world population has doubled between 1950 and 1991. Nonetheless, the demographic growth rate decreased after reaching a maximum during the years 1965-1970.3 This slowing down in the evolution of world population is in harmony with what population science calls the “demographic transition”. This term signifies the lowering of the mortality-rate and birth-rate while countries benefit from improved health care and/or economic conditions. However, depending upon the country, it must be kept in mind that population trends are very different. The so-called developed countries have experienced a very significant lowering of the synthetic fertility indices.4 In almost all these countries, this index is at a lower level than is actually needed simply to ensure that generations be replaced. On the other hand, in so-called developing countries, these same indices are at a level which allows for the replacement of generations, taking into account their health care conditions and mortality rate.

But even if there is a great contrast between the trends from the 1960’s to the present, the fall of fertility, very significant in almost all parts of the world, is irrefutable and evident from the facts published by specialized organizations. It is, nonetheless, frequently disregarded.
6. Another important trend is population geography. There is a growing urbanization, above all in developing countries, as an effect of rural emigration and international migrations, almost always directed towards urban regions. It is true that certain policies, notably in the area of finance and/or agriculture, arising from national and/or international pressure, have the effect of discouraging rural development. Urbanization is further explained by the evolution of structures of production and by the desire to have access to the greatest possibilities for employment, to manufacturing markets, shopping, educational institutions, health facilities, recreational activities and the other advantages offered by the city.
7. Understanding population trends also requires the study of migrations. Various factors help understand their importance. Unfortunately each day brings the news that people are forced to move to escape wars or massacres. These sometimes cause massive exoduses.5 Other persons, hoping to better their living conditions, leave their homes for economic reasons: to avoid unemployment and find better paying work. Because of structural changes in methods of production, economic situations also bring about significant migrations: rural emigration, emigration from once-industrialized regions, emigration toward regions considered to have a future. Migrations have effects on the physiognomy of countries, their evolution, the geography of their population. This is true for both the countries of emigration and the countries of immigration.
2. A “Second Demographic Revolution”

8. How are behavioral trends regarding the birth-rate in “developed” societies to be understood? The importance of the fall in fertility leads some to claim that there is a “second demographic revolution.” Here one deals with as considerable a change as in the “first demographic revolution”, even if in a different sense. This first revolution in some way helped to “curb” the mortality rate, and especially the three rates which previously controlled demographic patterns: birth, infant and adolescent mortality.

9. This second demographic revolution has different causes which belong primarily to the moral and cultural order: materialism, individualism and secularization. Consequently, many women are forced to work more and more outside the home.6 This results in unbalanced structures according to age. This imbalance brings about present political, economic and social problems. However, there is a risk that these problems are only perceived clearly when they have run their course because population trends are long term. For example, a greater number of aged persons will find themselves depending upon pensions which could only be assured by the work of an active population, which is certainly decreasing according to demographic projections. In various advanced countries there is a “demographic winter” which is becoming more and more severe. The authorities are beginning to be concerned: today there are more coffins than cradles, more elderly persons than children.

10. One of more serious consequences of the aging of the population is the risk of damage to solidarity between generations. This could lead to real struggles between the generations for a share in economic resources. Perhaps discussions about euthanasia are not extraneous to these conflicting trends.

11. This “second demographic revolution” is often misunderstood for three reasons. The first reason is that these societies, living on advantages gained during periods of sufficient fertility, benefit from the age-rated structures which up to now favour their active population. This is one of the reason which still makes high productivity possible . The negative effects which the falling birth-rate will produce in the economic and social domains are just beginning to be felt. Following upon this, the presence in these societies of the immigrant work force also helps delay recognition of this falling fertility and its possible consequences. Finally, translated into less investments in human resources, hence in education, the fall in the birth-rate releases financial means in the short term. These are seen as advantageous but they benefit present generations to the detriment of the future.7

12. What happened to Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communist system? A widespread and significant lowering of the birthrate took place in certain countries, leading to a trend similar to that in some regions of Western Europe—less births than deaths. For decades, the people of Eastern Europe suffered from different demographic policies. Often these did not respect the human person; they were very authoritarian, inspired by the a priori requirements of the Marxist-Leninist ideology and the imperatives attributed to the “necessities” of history. The present demographic behavior of the countries of Eastern Europe cannot be understood without taking into account the lingering effect of the situation into which they were plunged. Moreover, these countries are exposed to the influence of the consumer models coming from Western Europe.

3. The Developing Continents

13. According to most recent estimates, Africa is a continent with a high fertility. However, it is also underpopulated, with weak population densities in the greater part of its territory. Moreover, the uncertainty of specific demographic data has been particularly evident in this continent.8 Poor health care conditions and policies often limit in some countries and even stop the expected fall of the mortality-rate.9 Attention must also be given to the future demographic effects of AIDS, effects which could prove quite disastrous in certain regions.

In Northern Africa a lowering of the fertility-rate seems to be an established phenomenon from now on, even if, with very young population structure, the play of inertia common to all demographic phenomenon has a potential for population growth.

14. If one considers Latin America in relation to other developing continents, a first characteristic is to be found in weaker mortality-rates with birth-rates less high in temperate South America than in tropical South America and Central America. A second specific feature of some of these countries is the lower proportion of married women than in Asia and Africa. The specific consequence of this is a high number of births outside marriage.10

The lowering of fertility, largely correlated with the lower mortality mentioned above, leads to a population growth inferior to Asia (ex-USSR not included) and Africa.

15. The immense continent of Asia contains the major part of the Russian Federation and two of the most populated countries on earth: China and India. While the demographic evolution of Russia seems somewhat comparable to that of Eastern Europe, the other Asian countries present very different situations, not only between but even within the nations themselves. The Asian countries which are among those known as “the new industrial nations” seem to be entering the “second demographic revolution”. Other nations have not yet completed the phase of the first “demographic revolution” and combine rather high fertility with equally high mortality. Thus, in a world trend marked by a lowering of fertility following a lowering of mortality, Asia experiences very great demographic differences. Even within China and India, fertility can vary twofold, or even more, whereas the urbanization-rates are twice as low as Europe,

16. Therefore, the evolution of world population cannot be examined without taking into account an almost general fact: the relationship between fertility and mortality rates,11 and the very strong demographic contrasts, not only between continents, but even within continents and countries where very great regional differences are at times recorded. Thinking globally in terms of world population tends to gloss over the diversity of mortality rates, the different phenomena of migration, the difference in population growth rates, which are even negative in certain regions. Without a knowledge of these differences, one can only misunderstand the reality of population trends.
Chapter II
17. Bearing in mind the quantitative data provided by major statistical institutions and the causality of calculated trends, the demographic realities are in fact very different according to regions. Moreover, they are very complex.12 Every population study should take into account the history of the peoples under consideration, the changes which took place in the demographic pattern, as well as the sometimes considerable difference between regions. However, many people are led to believe there will be a “world population crisis”, especially those whose experience is limited to living in cities. To justify “Population control”, they have talked about a “population bomb”, a “population explosion”, an “overpopulated world” with irremediably limited resources. They say that there is a “world consensus” about the urgency of the situation. However, the slogans spread about these matters cannot stand up to analysis because the history of human development shows that it is simplistic to affirm that controlling population growth is necessary to achieve or maintain a certain level of prosperity. Therefore, a serious and lucid examination of demographic trends is in order.
1. Demographic Growth and Standards of Living

18. Development problems in the relevant countries are not only to be sought in the increase of the number of their inhabitants. Many of these countries have considerable natural resources which would often be able to sustain population larger than the ones they currently have. Unfortunately, too often this potential is presently either not sufficiently exploited or badly exploited. More often than not, the earth possesses materials which, thanks to man’s inventiveness, have been shown throughout history to be decisive resources for human progress. In the first place, the source of the difficulties of so-called Third World countries is to be sought in international relations. These difficulties have often been examined and even denounced by the Church.13 With regard to these causes which have bearing on the problem of development, solidarity is shown to be necessary, but this presupposes a change in the policies of developed nations.

There are also other internal causes in developing countries. The low standards of living and the scarcity of food, even to the point of famine, can be the result of bad political and economic administration, often accompanied by corruption. To this must be added: exaggerated military budgets, in contrast to the small amount set aside for education; wars—sometimes instigated by other nations—or fratricidal conflicts; glaring injustices in the allocation of revenues; the concentration of the means of production for the profit of a privileged group; discrimination against minorities; the paralyzing burden of foreign debt accompanied by the flight of capital; the weight of certain negative cultural practices; unequal access to property; bureaucracies blocking initiative and innovation, etc. In reality, if objective conditions explain under-development in certain regions of the planet, a lack of development is not inevitable since all these causes can be overcome when suitable measures are applied, even if this is difficult.
2. Food, Resources and Population

19. According to those who assert that world food and other resources are limited, would an increase in population inevitably result in poverty and want? It must be kept in mind that the amount of resources at the planet’s disposal is neither pre-defined nor unchangeable. The history of societies and civilizations shows that during certain periods some people were able to exploit hidden resources or resources neglected by previous generations. Thus, throughout the centuries, humanity’s resources have neither stagnated nor diminished. Instead they have increased and become more diversified. People have augmented resources; some examples of this would be: the cultivation of new crops such as the potato, which really revolutionized nutrition; the use of new techniques such as irrigating rice fields or greenhouse cultivation; the ability to utilize resources which before had been neglected, such as coal, petroleum, fertilizers, the atom, and sand. Such progress can also be seen in the fields of agriculture and breeding where modern methods increase possibilities.

People still have great potential at their disposal for the development of the planet; from solar energy—largely under utilized today—to under-water capsules, not to mention the centers of the “green revolution” announced by agronomists, also taking particular note of the progress made in animal and vegetable genetic engineering.14

20. Moreover, if the use of agricultural technologies in the most advanced countries is studied, it is apparent that from now on people are able to produce sufficient food for the world’s population—even if the hypotheses of international organizations were to be verified according to their highest projections. All this does not even take into account the technical progress yet to come.15

This confirms the fact that most critical food shortages are remediable as long as people are equipped to confront them and are animated by solidarity.16

The food shortages publicized by the mass media in recent years resulted from wars, fratricidal conflicts, seen today in different countries, or from poor public or private administration, far more than from adverse climatic conditions or other natural causes.

3. Environment and population

21. According to a frequently repeated affirmation, the number of earth’s inhabitants will cause growing population or degradation of the environment. Environmental concern was raised during the World Conference of the United Nations on Population of 1974.17 It was addressed again at the World conference on Population in Mexico in 1984,18 and at the Conference on Environment Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.19 However, no one has ever shown direct cause and effect relationship between population growth and degradation of the environment. On the other hand, the developed countries with great population density have less signs of pollution than the very elevated ones verified not long ago in countries formerly under Communist regimes.20 In these countries, the system of production proved to be extremely polluting. These models of production and consumption, as well as the kind of economic activities, determine environmental quality. The degradation of the environment is often due to mistaken policies which can and should be corrected by reasonable and joint efforts on the part of public and private sectors.

22. It is no less true that certain patterns of consumption should be corrected in developed societies. These patterns do not respect the environment nor do they take into account the responsibilities of people today towards the generations which are yet to come.

The problem of the environment should always be seen in the light of human development, taking into account its economic and social aspects. For this reason all these matters have ethical implications. Facts confirm that industrialized countries are making, and are willing to make, a real effort to protect their environment. This requires using non-polluting techniques of production and having a deeper sense of the responsibilities of these countries. In this case, the greatest problems arise from the badly controlled exploitation of natural resources, recourse to antiquated agricultural methods which exhaust the soil, or the disorderly introduction of industries, often foreign, which are highly polluting. In these regions, the adoption of appropriate technologies could prevent the degradation of the immediate environment. In any case, it would be simplistic to accuse the populations of these regions of being responsible for the acid rain or the fears raised at times about the ecological balance of the planet.

Part Two

Chapter I
24. Citing the rates at which population trends occur often causes a strong reaction. Raw statistics are brought up to explain the relationship between demographic growth and births. According to this kind of thinking, birth control is the indispensable pre-condition for the “sustainable development” of poor countries. By “sustainable development” is meant a development where the different factors involved (food, health, education, technology, population, environment, etc.) are brought into harmony so as to avoid unbalanced growth and the waste of resources. The developed countries define for other countries what must be, from their point of view, “sustainable development”. This explains why certain rich countries and major international organizations are willing to help these countries, but on one condition that they accept programmes for the systematic control of their births.
hose who react in this manner have generally not understood the logic of demographic processes, and particularly the phenomenon of self-regulation evidenced in data. They consequently ignore or underestimate both the importance of the lowering of fertility in the developing countries as well as the demographic decline seen in industrialized countries.

25. It would be difficult to find an example in history of a country which underwent a prolonged trend (more than twenty-five years) of falling population and enjoyed substantial economic growth. Attentive to current facts and the lessons of history, the Church cannot accept that the poorest populations be treated as “scapegoats” for under-development. The Church regards this attitude as particularly unjust considering that some countries are undergoing grave economic difficulties when, at the same time, they have a low population density and abundant exploitable resources. Furthermore, the Church can no longer ignore the negative demographic trends of industrial countries, all the more because the effects of these trends cannot be neutral. At the same time, the Church wishes to maintain a constructive dialogue with those who remain convinced of the necessity of setting up imperative population control, and with governments and institutions concerned with population policies. There are real demographic problems, even though they are often envisaged from an erroneous point of view and perverse solutions to them are often proposed.

26. It is now useful to explain the principal methods of those who promote limiting population growth as one of the first condition for economic and social development. Special attention will be given to the problem of abortion.
Chapter II
27. It is well known that there is a vast international network of wealthy organizations which direct their efforts towards reducing population. In different degrees, these organizations share a similar perspective and they publicly commend anti-natalist policies. Certain of these organizations often collaborate with companies which experiment with, produce and distribute contraceptive substances or devices (such as the intra-uterine device) or which recommend sterilization or even abortion. These organizations counsel, promote and often impose this variety of methods for reducing population.

28. The Holy Father himself has denounced these “systematic campaigns against birth”.21 In fact, certain campaigns are developed and financed by international organizations (public or private), which in turn, are often controlled by governments. These campaigns are frequently made in the name of the health and well-being of women and are also directed at young people under the forms of anti-birth sex education programmes. It should be noted, in passing, that in many countries there is a factor which controls population and, although indirect, is no less significant: a lack of adequate housing for families. Nevertheless, methods developed for directly controlling births are actually the principal means employed for population control.

Recently developed methods of birth control will be presented here, noting, however, that “traditional” methods (mechanical and coitus interruptus) are still largely used. All of these artificial methods raise important ethical problems regarding both human life and the rights of the person and the family.
1. Hormonal Contraception

29. Hormonal contraception is one of the modern methods for limiting population which has been widely diffused at the international level. Certain reports of international organizations regularly publish statistics on the number of women having access to this type of contraception. Other reports also speak of initiatives taken by some of these organizations to encourage and finance research on these products and their promotion on a wide scale.

30. In certain recent applications, hormonal contraception poses new problems. It is known that the first generation of these pills—oestroprogestitives—have essentially a contraceptive effect: they make conception impossible by blocking oocyte release. However, among the pills presented today as contraceptives, there are some which have several different effects.22 The pill acts either to impede conception or to prevent the implantation of the fertilized egg, that is, of an individual of the human species. In this latter case, notwithstanding the euphemisms used, these pills bring about an abortion of the fertilized egg. Thus, the woman who uses this kind of pill, or certain other new methods of hormonal contraception,23 is never able to know exactly what has happened and, particularly, whether she has aborted.
2. Sterilization

31. Another method of population control which is also widely encouraged in many countries is male or female sterilization. The way in which it is promoted raises serious questions concerning human rights and respect for persons. In particular, these questions have bearing on the honesty and quality of information given about sterilization and its consequences, as well as the degree of informed and free consent obtained from the persons concerned. The question of competent consent is often posed when dealing with persons with little formal education. Here, as in other cases, euphemisms are often used: for example, describing tubal ligation as “voluntary surgical contraception for women”.

On the moral level, because sterilization is a deliberate suppression of the procreative function, it violates not only human dignity, but also removes all responsibility from sexuality and procreation. Sterilization programs have already provoked many strong protests, with direct political repercussions in certain cases. Because surgical sterilization is usually irreversible, it can have more serious long-term demographic effects than contraception and abortion.

3. Abortion

32. Despite certain denials, abortion (surgical and pharmaceutical) is being promoted more and more, openly or in a hidden way, as a method of population control. This tendency is true even of institutions which, when they began, did not have abortion as part of their programme. After the International Conference on Population held at Mexico City in 1984, one is bound to ask to what extent an agreed Recommendation—approved by the Conference—has been honored which rejects using abortion method of population control.

33. Recommendation 18 of this Conference states that: “All efforts should be made to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality”; and with precise reference to women’s health: “Government are urged... to take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning, and whenever possible, provide for the humane treatment and counselling of women who have had recourse to abortion”.24

34. this Recommendation was accepted by the general consensus of the nations participating in the Conference. The Recommendation was addressed to governments, some of which provide funds for population control organizations. However, the activities and research of a number of these organizations indicate that in practice they do not apply Recommendation 18. Many of these organizations include abortion, at least de facto, among methods of family planning.

35. In developed countries, some women consider abortion as a fall-back solution in the case of contraception failure. In developing countries, there is a tendency to facilitate easier access to abortion as an effective method of population control, especially among the poorest sectors of the population.

36. Besides different surgical methods, chemical methods have also been developed to bring about abortion. Among these are the anti-pregnancy vaccines,25 injections based upon progestogens such as Depo-Provera or Noristerat,26 the prostoglandis, or high dosages of oestro-progesterone (commonly called the “morning-after” pill) or the abortion pill RU486, developed by the Roussel-Uclaff Laboratory, a subsidiary of Hoechst. Moreover, the intra-uterine device (IUD) can be included in the context of early abortion.

4. Infanticide

Finally, it should be recalled that infanticide is still practised in certain countries as a method of population control. Girls are more frequently the innocent victims.

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