French bishops ease ban on condoms

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 24 February 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:462
  1. Alexander Dorozynski

    A committee of French bishops has for the first time contradicted the Vatican's condemnation of all methods of birth control by recognising that the use of condoms may be necessary to protect against AIDS. In a 240 page book, AIDS: Society in Question, the Social Commission of the French Episcopate says: “Many competent doctors maintain that a condom of reliable quality is today the only means of prevention. As such, it is necessary.”

    The committee, headed by Bishop Albert Rouet of Poitiers, generally supports the Catholic Church's condemnation of birth control for its own sake but for the first time acknowledges the role of the contraceptive in reducing serious risk.

    The book, which quotes testimonies of patients, parents, doctors, and even one homosexual person, also rejects the view that AIDS is the result of “deviant behaviour” or is a “divine punishment.”

    Professor Marc Gentilliny, president of the Catholic Committee of French Doctors, said that the bishops had “removed a certain number of ambiguities” and emphasised that the church “cannot be against contraceptives, a means of preventing the transmission of death.”

    Professor Luc Montagnier, of the Pasteur Institute and discoverer of the HIV virus, said that the position taken by the French church represented an important evolution and “has the merit of frankly broaching the problem, putting an end to allusions or indirect statements.” Professor Montagnier, however, told the daily newspaper Le Monde that obstacles still remain at the Vatican, adding, “I do not think that Jean Paul II will change his opinion.”

    Monsignor Rouet said: “We wanted to meet our responsibilities as bishops of France.” But the bishops warned that the report should not be seen as a break with the church's teaching or as opposition to it.

    The publication of the bishops' report coincided with a study by the French Institute of Demographic Studies on AIDS in France, showing that mortality will continue to rise at least until next year.

    Mortality from AIDS in France is one of the highest in Europe, with 88.5 deaths per million population a year (after Spain with 139 deaths per million and Switzerland with 89.6). By comparison Germany and Great Britain have between 20 to 30 deaths from AIDS per million of the population a year.—ALEXANDER DOROZYNSKI, medical journalist, Paris

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