The Family In Contemporary Society

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

Among the documents to be considered by the Lambeth Conference of Bishops is a report entitled ‘The Family in Contemporary society’. This report has been drawn up by a group convened at the instigation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, under the chairmanship of Canon Warren; hence it is popularly known as the “Warren Report”.

Seven chapters long, the Report also contains four appendices dealing with population problems, one dealing specifically with family planning in India.

The quarterly, ‘Family Planning’, organ of the Family Planning Association, says of this Report that it “marks a considerable advance on previous Church thinking on problems of population and birth control”. l cannot do better, in view of the urgency of measures needed in Mauritius to deal with the population problem, than quote from the Report; and the Bishop of Mauritius, the Rt. Rev. Hugh Otter-Barry, will I feel sure find much in it than its germane to his diocese. I look forward to his contribution to the bishops’ discussion of the Report.

“The problem of over-population today cannot be left to solve itself; the starvation of millions, the remaining natural check (excluding annihilation in an atomic war), is intolerable to the conscience of mankind.” The first part of this sentence is in direct contrast to Mr Profumo’s parliamentary answer to Mr James Johnson the other day when he hinted that, although the Government of Mauritius had no plan to deal with birth control, he hoped the people of Mauritius would realise that the answer to the problem of over-population lay in their own hands and in their own self-control.

Three areas are specifically mentioned as needing outside aid to help solve their economic problems: India, the Caribbean and Egypt. The materially more advanced countries have a duty to help the underdeveloped lands, especially where there are population pressures in those backward lands. Yet, says the Report, “there are countries inhabited by millions of people, in which no programme of development yet foreseeable can hope by itself to win the race with population multiplying at its present rate.” Myself, I would suggest that Mauritius is another such country. The Five-Year Plan by itself cannot solve all the economic problems; by itself, it is merely tinkering with the problem.

Family planning, therefore, emerges as a necessary pre-requisite of economic advance. It is gathering momentum and will do so increasingly “however the Church may regard it”. Canon Warren’s committee points out that family planning is the only possible explanation of the stabilised or declining birth rates in countries which have drastically reduced their death rates… The facts convince us that there is no more than a difference in degree in the acceptance of family planning between Roman Catholics and Protestants and it has been observed in the United Kingdom, in the Irish Republic, and in Western Germany, as indeed in the USA and Europe generally, that occupation is more of a determinant of family size than is religion.

On the history of the attitude of the Church to the use of contraceptives, the Warren Report recalls that the 1908 and 1920 Lambeth Conferences “denounced contraception outright” but the 1930 Conference, by a 3-to-1 majority, was” grudgingly permissive”. Elsewhere, the report continues, “Christians are anxious for its considerations in principle and for a moral decision by the Church”.

It is necessary for the Church to give religious sanction to responsible family limitation. That is the recently expressed view of the Medical Consultative Committee of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

The conclusion of the Report is well summed up in, these words: “The more we understand of our procreative powers, the more responsible we are for the way in which we use them. The price of this generation’s knowledge is therefore a heavier burden of responsibility. Christian parents who participate in that knowledge, whether they accept contraception or not, cannot but feel obliged to space and plan their families according to their understanding of themselves, of the well-being of their children, and of the needs of the society of which they are part. To produce children without regard to consequences is to use procreative power irresponsibly, the more so when there is involved the imposition of one partner’s will upon the other. If our conscience will not tolerate, when we know how to prevent it, a torrent of infant deaths, no more should we, with the knowledge we have, encourage an ungoverned spate of unwanted births. If fatalism has given  place to upholding the sanctity of life for the living, should it not yield also to a responsibility for those whom we cause to be born?”

The meaning of this peroration is surely clear — that the Church recognises the need for family planning, for control of births. That being so, and since the so called “natural” methods of birth control are known to be unreliable, it follows that artificial means of birth control will have to be adopted.

Why the Government of Mauritius does not announce that it will finance the Mauritius Family Planning Association so that the FPA can widen its sphere of influence and effectiveness, it is difficult to understand. The Five-Year Plan is but tinkering with the problem; it is nibbling at the edges of a vast problem which can no more be solved without family planning than Mrs Partington could dry up the Atlantic Ocean with her mop.

A word on the Moslem position, in view of the recent argument in the correspondence columns of the MT, may be allowed. Islam claims over 316 million adherents; more than any other non-Christian religion. The Moslem attitude to birth control is defined in a series of permissive rulings, known as fatwas. These have extended down the centuries, the latest being in 1937. This fatwa, dated the 12th of Dhi al Qaada 1355 (January 25, 1937), was issued by His Worship the Supreme Teacher Sheikh Abdel Mayid Selim, Mufti of the Egyptian Realm. He was asked if a husband or wife should be allowed “to take certain measures recommended by medical men to avoid frequent child-bearing so that a long interval may elapse between one childbirth and the next”. After lengthy deliberation with lawyers of the Hanafy School, the most important of the Four Schools of Islamic Law and Religion, the Mufti replied: “It is permissible for either husband or wife, by mutual consent, to take any measures… in order to prevent conception.” The complete text of the Mufti’s reply makes it clear that by “any measures” he includes artificial means as well as the so-called natural ones.

Islam is of course the state religion of Pakistan. In December 1951 the Pakistan journal Medicus quoted a tradition of the Holy Prophet in which the Holy Prophet himself gave permission for contraception even for reasons other than medical. Medicus argued that procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage; declared birth control was essential to Pakistan’s economy and development, and averred that Pakistan’s most vital need was to import “shiploads of contraceptives.”

5th Year – No 208
Friday 1st August, 1958

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