In the Service of Human Life
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Applied Bioethics in stylized text
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In the Service of Human Life

Reversability

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Does reversibility negate bioethical violation?

The human reproductive system is unique as it is the only system that requires a complimentary body to complete its function. All other systems are closed, and self-supporting. The great challenge of the human person is mastering and respecting one’s own reproductive powers. It’s a life-long task. The judicious use of these powers is essential to both promoting the family and protecting the dignity of the human person. In seeking to avoid procreation, we attempt to control or otherwise amend the reproductive system.

Attempts to alter the human reproductive system with selfish intent is inherently wrong. The system itself has a natural rhythm that can be observed and, from those observations, be used as a basis for family planning. This is more true for the female reproductive system, since the male reproductive system is essentially always on.

But what about vasectomy? This procedure, increasingly available at primary care clinics, is able to be done outpatient and has a degree of reversibility. Uncomfortable, to be sure, vasectomy can be employed both as a primary and a secondary form of birth control. While it may not be permanent, all procedures carry risks of unintended consequence and irreversible damage.

Vasectomies, to be sure, are unethical. This maiming violates the very core of the human person: one’s sexuality and reproductive powers. It’s a procedure that, like tubal ligations or hormonal contraceptives, disrupts a healthy and functioning system not out of medical necessity, but out of convenience. Permanent, or semi-permanent, elective sterilization is reductive. With the powers of creation cast aside, all future marital intercourse is simply a physical act, no longer something special or set apart. While it may meet the intent of the patient, it does injury to a functional system and the person.

A future assumed possibility does not remove the ethical burden of an inherently unethical procedure. Assuming that the vasectomy is uncomplicated, and is able to be reversed, does this negate its bioethical transgressions? After all, a reversed vasectomy is more akin to a pause than an actual sterilization. In short, no, an elective vasectomy is unethical, no matter the duration. One’s creative powers are truly something profound. To transmit and create new life is of the highest order, and to reject the power to procreate with the violence of the surgical instrument is inherently wrong.

Vasectomy disrupts the functioning reproductive system for a period of time, out of convenience. This decision is made more serious because there are ethical alternatives. Intent plays an outsized role in bioethical analysis, and if the heart of a treatment decision is to do something unethical, a later planned reversal does not negate that ethical breach.