Practical, Moral, and Spiritual Implications of Sterilization

Do you have any thoughts on the moral and spiritual implications of vasectomy and tubal ligation? For a number of reasons my spouse and I would like to eliminate the possibility of any future pregnancies. What are the pros and cons of these procedures?

There are no direct and easy answers to the questions you’ve raised. Though it’s possible to find equally committed Christians with strong opinions on both sides of the issue, the fact remains that the Bible does not directly address all of the moral and spiritual implications of many modern medical procedures such as vasectomy and tubal ligation. We realize that some denominations (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church) and certain movements within the Christian community (e.g., Natural Family Planning) are firmly opposed to any type of contraception and regard voluntary sterilization as both presumptuous and sacrilegious. At the same time, many Christians of good faith and conscience view vasectomy and tubal ligation as acceptable methods of birth control. As representatives of a non-denominational ministry, it is not our goal to make pronouncements in this part of the debate over contraception. If you’re wrestling with questions of this nature, we recommend that you discuss them with your pastor or priest.

Aside from questions of Christian faith and permissibility, there are other concerns that are raised with sterilization as a form of birth control. There is potential for marital conflict if one spouse feels pressured to undergo vasectomy or tubal ligation. In addition, vasectomy and tubal ligation are permanent measures. Procedures to reverse surgical sterilization are complicated, expensive, and only sometimes successful. If the husband and wife change their minds after a sterilization procedure and decide they want to have children, it might not be possible. Discord may also arise if one spouse decides after such a procedure that he or she wants children (or additional children) but the other spouse does not. For some husbands or wives, fertility is a key part of their own self-image as male or female whether or not they are planning or desiring children. These individuals may feel diminished by sterilization. For these reasons, couples need to weigh the ramifications carefully and be sure that they are on the same page before moving ahead with either of these procedures. We’d advise you to delay your decision until you’ve had a chance to research the facts thoroughly and get the opinions of one or more physicians, as well as discuss your options and concerns with a Christian marriage counselor.

Why might a couple consider sterilization? There are a number of valid medical reasons for wishing to avoid further pregnancies. A woman may have experienced difficult or even dangerous deliveries in the past. A couple may have been told by their doctor that future pregnancies could pose a serious threat to the life or health of the mother. Fears about birth defects may increase as a woman ages, and economic concerns factor into the equation for some couples. For any one of these reasons, a couple might conclude that sterilization is an acceptable course to pursue. This is a decision that they have to prayerfully make for themselves.

It’s worth adding that, for a faithful, monogamous couple considering these permanent measures, vasectomy may be the easier, simpler and less expensive way to go. Many men resist taking this path, possibly out of fears that the procedure will have an emasculating or feminizing effect. Since vasectomy does not affect testosterone levels, however, it does not cause these problems. Here again it would be extremely beneficial to review the risks, benefits, and alternatives to both approaches with your physician before making any permanent decisions, and to consider getting input from a Christian counselor. There may be individual health or personal issues for you and your spouse that make one approach better than the other.

If you feel a need to discuss this information at greater length with a member of our staff, we hope you’ll feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. A member of our team would be more than happy to speak with you over the phone. Our counselors can also provide a list of referrals to qualified Christian marital counselors practicing in your local area.

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