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Thursday
Dec082011

Should Nuns Take the Pill for Health Reasons?

Hemera/Thinkstock(MELBOURNE, Australia) -- The world’s 94,790 nuns pay an unexpected price for their chastity: an increased risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancers.

A commentary by Australian researchers highlights the health hazards many nuns could face because of nulliparity (the condition of never being pregnant) -- hazards they say could be minimized by the birth control pill.

“If the Catholic Church could make the oral contraceptive pill freely available to all its nuns, it would reduce the risk of those accursed pests, cancer of the ovary and uterus, and give nuns’ plight the recognition it deserves,” Kara Britt of Monash University in Victoria and Roger Short of the University of Melbourne wrote in The Lancet.

The term “accursed pests” was first used to describe breast cancer among nuns by Italian physician Bernadino Ramazzini in 1713. Since then, severe epidemiological studies have confirmed the risk, including a study of more than 31,658 Catholic nuns in the U.S. between 1900 and 1954 that found an increased risk of dying from breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.

Because they don’t experience pregnancy or lactation, women who don’t have sex have more ovulatory menstrual cycles.  That increased number of cycles is directly linked to an increased risk of cancer.  But the birth control pill -- a form of contraception condemned by the Catholic Church -- has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer by up to 60 percent.

“The Catholic Church condemns all forms of contraception except abstinence, as outlined by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968,” wrote Britt and Short. “Although Humanae Vitae never mentions nuns, they should be free to use the contraceptive pill to protect against the hazards of nulliparity since the document states that 'the Church in no way regards as unlawful therapeutic means considered necessary to cure organic diseases, even though they also have a contraceptive effect.'"

Oral contraceptives can increase the risk of blood clots, a risk thought to be higher in some newer versions of the pill.  But the pill’s cancer risk-reducing effects are well-documented, wrote Britt and Short, and nuns should be able to benefit from them.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio