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Fifty Questions on Love and Life

The Population Problem

An enormous pressure is put on developing countries to diminish their birthrate. Measures are forced upon them which often run contrary to human respect. For example, a certificate of sterilization must be produced in order to get a job in certain societies. International organizations will only give financial aid on the condition that birth control methods are imposed on the people. But the efforts from abroad to spread contraceptive methods in poor countries do not originate from the concern to help them recover from underdevelopment, but rather from the fear on the part of rich countries of having their own wealth threatened by a human invasion. Don't we often hear today how the population growth of the third world has an effect on the environment[1] ?

They are too poor because they are too numerous. This affirmation appears in the Malthusian theories (from the name of an English economist of the 18th Century, Malthus), which are still widely accepted today. The solution would then be found in decreasing the population in order to promote a better way of life.

Too high a population growth can, it appears, slow down development[2]. But generally, development has already been hindered from the start by economic injustice, by a chronic underdevelopment of agriculture and by a lack of political will. Feeding twenty billion people is possible with the actual wealth and resources of the earth. The problem is that poor countries cannot afford to buy or to produce the necessary staples.

But what about putting the affirmation the other way around : They are too numerous because they are too poor. We know that in most civilizations, children have always been considered as the main source of wealth for the future: for the present, they provide the cheapest labour and in the future, they will be able to provide for their elderly parents. As the German bishops have stated in an episcopal conference document : To decrease the number of children without changing the reasons why parents wish to have many children means depriving poor people of their only hope.[3]

Is the pill good? We are convinced that its promotion in poorer countries is supported by a false vision of freedom and solidarity. Furthermore, women are not always informed about the effects of the products they use. Certain contraceptives, which are prohibited in the United States and in Europe, are still being sold in the Third World. Does this mean that there are two different sorts of justice: one for the richer and one for the poorer countries? Finally, the promotion of contraceptives often goes against the cultural and religious traditions of the population. These traditions either precede or join together with the Church's defense of the inalienable right to life.

We can conclude by bearing in mind that the Church doesn't limit itself to criticism of contraception but very emphtically and efficiently encourages natural family planning which, contrary to prominent misconceptions, has a strong scientific basis (see What are the Natural Methods of Birth Control?). It is easily taught; it only requires a simple technique of self-observation and doesn't cost more than the price of a thermometer! Mother Teresa, among others taught this in a simple way to the poorest of populations. Here we find a long-term answer to the problem which puts the human being in first place[4].

(1) See the book by Michel Schooyans, La derive totalitaire du liberalisme, Ed. Universitaires 1991.
(2) Sollicitudo rei Socialis no. 25.
(3) Population and Poverty: A study of the relationship between poverty and demographic trends in the Third World, by the German Bishops' Conference, published in Catholic International Vol.2, No.18, 15-31 October, 1991, p.875-886.
(4) For a clear ethic of family planning, Communication of the Catholic Church at the 22nd Conference of the Council of International Organizations of Medical Science (Cioms) in Bangkok, Thailand, June 19-24, 1988, published in L'Osservatore Romano (English Edition) June 25, 1988.


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