Thu, Jan 08, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Catholic Church renews its attack on contraceptive pill

‘HORROR SCENARIO’ The fall in the birth rate in Austria, a chemist wrote in an article, is an ‘epidemic’ far worse than obesity and represents national suicide

THE GUARDIAN , BERLIN AND ROME

Roman Catholic leaders have pounced on a “confession” by one of the inventors of the birth control pill who has said the contraceptive he helped create was responsible for a “demographic catastrophe.”

In an article published by the Vatican this week, the head of the world’s Roman Catholic doctors broadened the attack on the pill, claiming it had also brought “devastating ecological effects” by releasing into the environment “tonnes of hormones” that had impaired male fertility.

The assault began with a personal commentary in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard by 85-year-old Carl Djerassi. The Austrian chemist was one of three whose formulation of the synthetic progestogen Norethisterone marked a key step toward the earliest oral contraceptive pill.

Djerassi outlined the “horror scenario” that occurred because of the population imbalance, for which his invention was partly to blame. He said that in most of Europe there was now “no connection at all between sexuality and reproduction.” He said: “This divide in Catholic Austria, a country which has on average 1.4 children per family, is now complete.”

He described families who had decided against reproduction as “wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it.”

The fall in the birth rate, he said, was an “epidemic” far worse — but given less attention — than obesity. Young Austrians, he said, were committing national suicide if they failed to procreate. And if it were not possible to reverse the population decline they would have to understand the necessity of an “intelligent immigration policy.”

The head of Austria’s Catholics, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, told an interviewer that the Vatican had forecast 40 years ago that the pill would lead to a dramatic fall in the birth rate in the west.

“Somebody above suspicion like Carl Djerassi ... is saying that each family has to produce three children to maintain population levels, but we’re far away from that,” he said.

Schonborn told Austrian TV that when he first read Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical condemning artificial contraception he viewed it negatively as a “cold shower.” But he said he had altered his views as, over time, it had proved “prophetic.”

Writing for the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, the president of the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, Jose Maria Simon, said research from his association also showed the pill “worked in many cases with a genuinely ... abortive effect.”

Angelo Bonelli, of the Italian Green party, said it was the first he had heard of a link between the pill and environmental pollution. The worst of poisons were to be found in the water supply.

“It strikes me as idiosyncratic to be worried about this,” he said.

A leading gynecologist and member of the New York Academy of Science, professor Gian Benedetto Melis, called Simon’s claims “science fiction,” saying that the pill blocked ovulation only.

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