The use of the contraceptive pill by Catholic nuns

Dr Kara Britt

Dr Kara Britt

Catholic nuns should be encouraged to use the oral contraceptive pill as a way of reducing the likelihood of developing ovarian and uterine cancer, according to a paper published by The Lancet online.

Dr Kara Britt, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University wrote the paper with Professor Roger Short, Department of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at Melbourne University.

They arrived at their conclusions after examining various longitudinal and epidemiological studies which showed the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer is influenced by the number of ovulatory menstrual cycles: the more cycles the greater the risk.

Consequently, women who do not bear children (nulliparous women) have an increased risk of diagnosis due to the absence of pregnancy and lactation.

Dr Britt and Dr Short highlight research demonstrating that the oral contraceptive pill can decrease the risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers by 50-60 per cent. This protection persists for 20 years, demonstrating a clear long-term benefit, which could help nulliparous women including nuns.

“The research clearly indicates that an increased number of cycles increases the odds of reproductive cancer, so not having children, going through puberty early, or menopause later will affect the incidence. The pill could help manage these risks for nuns,” Dr Britt said.

The 1968 Humanae Vitae written by Pope Paul VI condemned the use of all forms of contraception, except abstinence, however, it also stated that “the Church in no way regards as unlawful therapeutic means considered necessary to cure organic disease, even though they also have a contraceptive effect.” 

“We are recommending the use of the oral contraceptive pill among nuns for health reasons, not contraception, and we believe this falls within the guidelines of the position of the Church,” Dr Britt said.

“Making the pill readily available to all nulliparous women, including nuns will reduce the risks and give their plight the recognition it deserves.”

Dr Britt will present the commentary later this year at the World Congress of Maternal and Neonatal Health in Rome. Supported by the World Health Organization, The European Association of Perinatal Medicine, the World Association of Perinatal Medicine and the March of the Dimes, Dr Britt will also attend a Papal audience on the final day of the conference.

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