Is this permissible remote material cooperation or do I have to quit my job?)


Background: I work in infectious disease clinical trials research. My role is not in a lab or in a clinic; I work on the data side–writing study protocols, designing databases, etc. When I started my new job less than a year ago, the company didn’t really give me an option as to what disease I’d work on–it was just, you’re in the infectious disease department and you’ll be working on sexually transmitted infections. That part didn’t really bother me–I feel like working to find cures for any disease is a good thing, regardless of the morality of how people got the disease.

When I started to get further into the job, I learned that a requirement of many clinical trials is that women in the study must be on birth control (or abstinent) for the duration of the study to avoid any harm to an unborn child from an untested drug. I felt uncomfortable with drafting study documents instructing clinic staff to counsel subjects on pregnancy and STI prevention, and making sure the birth control requirement made it into the protocol, and things like that. I wrote to the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and they told me it was remote material cooperation, permissible because it’s my job (my livelihood) and because I don’t intend for the women to contracept and I’m not an essential link to the contraception. That comforted me.

I have a new task now–I have to write the checklists for the nurses at the clinic to make sure they do everything per the study protocol. For one study, this includes “encourage patients to use condoms throughout the duration of the study.” For whatever reason, this is bugging me. Maybe it’s that I feel like I’m playing a part in encouraging birth control by my checklist “reminding” the nurses to encourage their patients to use ABC. (Certainly the patients have the option of abstinence, but since these are STI patients, it’s not likely.)

Am I just being scrupulous? Is this really any different from what I laid out above? It seems nuts to think that I could quit my job over typing a single line of text on a form, but I guess better that than sin. I feel like I’ve spent the past few months just terrified that some moral issue is going to come up that I’m going to have to quit over, but this is about the extent of how “bad” my job duties could get since we don’t do anything related to abortion. (Although if patients get pregnant, they have to leave the study, and I guess if they choose to have an abortion they could stay in the study and continue receiving monetary benefits from it which *could *be considered encouragement? but we never encourage/discourage abortion in all official documents and correspondence.)


You are going to get answers all over the place, and that’s not going to help your conscience.

I view the “checklist” as an extension of the protocol you already asked the NCBC about. and therefore their answer applies.

If you are unsure, call them again.


God isn’t a schoolmaster demanding you get both the right intention and the the right answer in everything. Life is often shades of grey or without a definiter answer.

If you are in any way doubtful or confused in a moral matter then go with the advice of a reputable Catholic authority. It doesn’t really matter if they are right or wrong - you have done your best and God expects no more.

Of course if your conscience gives you a definitive answer and you are absolutely sure in your own judgement, then you have to go with that.
Good luck and don’t sweat the small things.


I think you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “is this permissible?”, you should be asking “What is God’s will for me?”. Is this the occupation that God wants for you?

I agree that the work is remote material cooperation. However, why cooperate with someone else’s grave sin, even if it is permissible? You obviously don’t want to be in this situation. So, don’t quit your job suddenly. But perhaps you should start looking for work that is more pleasing to God and to your own conscience.


I have actually been thinking about this and praying about this lately. I do not feel like this is a job I want to stay in forever–I’ve been feeling a pull to do something else, but I am not sure what. But I feel pretty confident that this position at this company is not where I’m meant to be for the long term. However, I am only about a year out of college, so I don’t have the work experience yet to leverage into a different position at my current company or elsewhere. And even if I decide to stay in this field, the company I am at is the best in its business, so it would be somewhat of a downgrade in quality of workplace, co-workers, benefits, etc. to go elsewhere. At this point I’m mainly just waiting on God to open a door somewhere and show me what He wants me to do. Prayers are much appreciated.


Thank you. I do tend to become caught up in the technicalities of morality and become very stressed. Your words are very comforting. :slight_smile:


God doesn’t want use to use our intellect to cure STIs? Really?

Ron, do you have a list of professions that are “pleasing to God”?


I wonder if you could rephrase your recommendation to the nurses. For example: “encourage patients to use condoms throughout the duration of the study if permitted by their religious beliefs.”
That would alert people to the fact that there might be a question for some people to consider.
I used to work in a hospital which counseled spinal cord injured people on physical, emotional, and sexual issues. The advice given regarding sexuality was not in line with Catholic teachings, and many of our patients were Catholics who were probably poorly catechized. I only learned later about the disconnection.
Being better informed would have been helpful.


Good consideration!


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