Sterilization of severely retarded woman to prevent involuntary pregnancy?

Some family friends of ours have a severely retarded adult daughter who has been institutionalized from time to time in a co-ed mental health facility. She has a whole welter of problems — possible autism, severe anger issues that are managed with potent medication, a history of violent outbursts, and overall, the mentality of a five- or six-year-old child. She is home with her family now, but she is in and out of facilities and probably always will be. She’s a lovely woman and it is a very tragic situation.

Two questions:

  • Would it be morally licit for the family to have her sterilized? As I said, she has been in a co-ed facility and may return there. She could very easily be raped, or otherwise coerced into sexual activity. She probably has not attained the age of reason and never will, so obviously she could not be blamed for anything that might happen. But if she fell pregnant, you would then have a child who could never be cared for, and it’s possible the potent medication she takes could damage the child in utero. It’s also worth noting that she is able to muster enough intelligence to access social media, and she has a “boyfriend” of sorts — he once came to our door demanding to know how he might be able to see her (we live close by). The family environment is not the best.

  • If it would not be morally licit to have her sterilized, would it be morally licit for her to be put on non-abortifacient contraception (implants, etc.)? And if so, what is the difference? Either way, she is rendered sterile. Is there a distinction to be made between permanent, irreversible sterilization, and temporary, reversible sterilization, and if so, why?

As anyone who reads this forum regularly knows, I absolutely accept the Church’s teaching on contraception with no exceptions and no appeals to “conscience”. But this is an extreme situation where there is no question of the girl ever being able to render free willful consent to sexual activity, and sadly, she will never marry. She just stays home, watches television, and uses the computer all day, and that’s all she will ever be capable of doing. I pray mightily for her and her family.

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Sterilization to prevent pregnancy is never moral.

The moral thing is to provide the lady with a safe environment, a place where she is protected from attacks of all kinds.


Honestly, I would sooner send my child to a single-sex facility, out of state if necessary, than a place that didn’t have the proper protections in place for her. This “home,” if you can call it that, sounds egregious. If rape is an issue there, it needs to be reported to the state. In short, my priority would be to fix the horrible surroundings, not a woman’s body in order to accommodate them.

This reminds me of Planned Parenthood doling out birth control so that minors can continue to be statutory rape victims.

This issue is too urgent to be musing about Catholic moral theology.


Catechism of the Catholic Church, Respect for bodily integrity

2297 … Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law. 91

91 Cf. Denzinger-Schoenmetzer (Sources of Catholic Dogma) 3722.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, The fecundity of marriage

2370 … In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil: 159 …

159 Humanae Vitae 14.






I couldn’t agree more. The simple, and morally acceptable, thing to do, is to keep her away from men who might take advantage of her.

When the young man came to our neighborhood and got belligerent, first with us, and then with the woman’s mother, someone called the police but they didn’t stop, they just drove by. The man was African American (she is white) and that was right about the time when there was this big hee-hack in the media over police being called on AA people when they weren’t doing anything illegal, or even if they were, it was more just anti-social than criminal (the cookout scenario in the park in California when they were having a picnic in an area not authorized for it, etc.).

What a world we live in.

Not clear what you’re getting at here. The rest of the world, outside of the Catholic Church, would say “of course she should be sterilized — you can’t take the chance of her getting pregnant”. The Catholic Church alone maintains the correct moral teachings on matters of marriage, sexuality, and reproduction, and that is why she is a “sign of contradiction” to the world. All other faiths and ethical systems fall short on this. (The Amish and ultra-Orthodox Jews might be exceptions to this “falling short”. There could be others.) And quite frankly, much of modern society would simply say “if she gets pregnant, then you just abort”.

As I said, the family situation is not the best. She is the only child, her mother is disabled (and has other issues as well), the parents are divorced, and mother’s “significant other” lives separate from her and comes to take care of them from time to time. He is a prince of a man and he does a fine job. It’s not inconceivable that the young lady would catch her mother’s back turned, have her boyfriend to pick her up, and run off with him.

@TheLittleLady said it more succinctly.

If she’s in danger of getting raped, she needs to be removed from that danger. Not sterilized or put on contraception.


I am sorry to know about your relative. This is an interesting scenario, but I have a feeling the Church would reject this solution as too extreme and a violation of bodily integrity, even though it is not done with contraceptive intent. Might it have been possible to leave her intact, but give medication that would suppress ovulation (and thus menstruation)?

What do you mean by this? Are you asking if it’s okay for a Catholic to have their daughter sterilized under the circumstances you described? Or are the people not Catholic, and you’re asking if it’s ethical to do it?


I find it kind of creepy or weird that implicit in this discussion is the idea that the better part of the effort is not expended in preventing the rape but in preventing a resulting pregnancy from said rape.


Morality is morality, regardless of whether someone is Catholic or not. (These people are not Catholic.) There is no “twin track” of morality, one for Catholics, and one for those who do not accept Catholic morality in its fullness.

I think it’s quite obvious that, unless it would be a rare exception, non-Catholics would say with one voice that sterilization, or at the very least contraception, would be called for in this case. And they would be wrong.

You don’t know the circumstances. If the young lady catches her mother indisposed (sleeping, in the bathtub, run to the store to get groceries, etc.), runs off with her boyfriend, and gets pregnant, it’s too late then. She’s got just enough intelligence to pull a trick like that.

If sterilization or contraception can’t be condoned in such circumstances — in that there is no possibility of willful consent and any act would be statutory (or actual) rape — so be it. Getting her away from a disabled mother and into a single-sex group home, with a vigilant housemother who keeps the men away, would be the best solution.

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I agree.

The best solution is to get her away from her “boyfriend “and into a more protective location.

Does the “boyfriend” know that he will be guilty of statutory rape if he proceeds to have sexual relations with her? Somebody needs to put the fear of God in him.


I don’t know. He has mental issues himself, though he is not as badly afflicted as the girl is. It is a horribly messed-up situation.

What else is there to know? You stated:

Could you instead discuss whether it’s morally licit to deliberately place a mentally disabled woman in this kind of danger? I’m pretty confident that it isn’t.

You used the phrase morally licit. That sort of terminology would basically only apply to whatever moral authority is declaring it morally licit or illicit.

I can only assume you are talking about the concept of Natural Law here. That’s a fine way to frame the question. However, you’d get varying answers - essentially, case by case answers. Which is basically how it’s handled in the US, and which is how your family should handle it.

If the circumstances warrant it, I don’t think there is anything unethical about what you’re describing. However, someone more knowledgeable about that particular case would make the judgement. I wouldn’t just say that your family should force sterilization, but I think they should be free to pursue it given what you’ve described as the situation this woman is in.

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No, it’s not morally licit, but those are the circumstances she’s in, and that is just the unfortunate truth. It’s a mess.

I accept the magisterium of God’s One True Catholic Church as the only entity on the planet with authority to speak and teach on moral matters. The Catholic Church is the one true church and Our Lord wills all to belong to it. No other entity has any authority whatsoever in the Eyes of God, and those are the only Eyes I care anything about.

Just to clarify, I am not related to these people. It is a family in our neighborhood.

I was merely “throwing it out there” as to whether a woman who has no power of free will or intellect, at least not enough to understand right and wrong, and to resist seduction and temptation, might be sterilized or otherwise rendered unable to conceive (implants, etc.), in that she has the ability to get pregnant, but not the free agency to refrain from the acts. (The Kennedys had the same concerns about their daughter Rosemary, though Rosemary was in far better mental shape than our neighbor girl.) Evidently this cannot be done without sinning (her guardians who would make this decision for her, not the girl herself). It would be an attempt to justify the means by looking towards the good end (not getting pregnant).

As a practical matter, they are not Catholics, and they have probably resorted to whatever solution that they deem appropriate. But what non-Catholics regard as moral or immoral is of no concern to me, nor to the Church, nor to Almighty God. I judge no one, but I am entirely within my rights to call out behavior as sinful.

Then to answer your original question, it is most certainly sinful to provide contraception, whether temporary or via sterilization, to enable a woman to remain in a dangerous, at-risk situation.


Such a person cannot consent to sexual relations either, which begs the question whether an intervention to deploy a contraceptive would be wrong.

Thank you. These eleven words cut right to the core of the whole situation.

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