Reversing a Culture of Death

Dr. Sweeney is Dean of the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Arlington, Virginia. She delivered this speech at the Library of Congress in Washington on April 17, 2002, commemorating FRC's new publication, Building a Culture of Life: A Call to Respect Human Dignity in American Life.

PRACTICES OPPOSED TO WOMEN'S HEALTH: THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS  -- There are psychological problems mental health professionals are seeing in real life. We are a society wounded psychologically by the culture of death. Women, in particular, reap disproportionate psychological injury and suffering as a result of health-related practices which are opposed to the culture of life.
 
The culture of death was ushered into American society at the time of the sexual revolution in the 60s and 70s. The sexual revolution promised a new freedom and discovery of self; in pursuit of freedom, women sought license and unfettered autonomy. In pursuit of sexual pleasure, women separated sexual expression from its true meaning within marriage and its connection with procreation. In pursuit of equality with men, women surrendered the dignity of womanhood and rejected the value of motherhood. In hopes of "getting in touch with their inner selves" women embraced psychology, the priority of feelings over reason, and rejected the constraints of objective morality.
 
It is particularly ironic that the generation that embraced psychology adopted a lifestyle and created a culture that caused so much psychological suffering. What the sexual revolution and radical feminism promised was that the pursuit of freedom, sexual equality, sexual pleasure and the rejection of traditional morality would bring individual happiness and build a more truly human society. Instead, the reproductive health practices spawned by the sexual revolution and the women's liberation movement resulted in: a skyrocketing divorce rate, less stable families, teen promiscuity, teen pregnancy, easy abortion, a culture of individualism and selfishness, devaluing of womanhood and motherhood, isolation, and the tendency to use others as a means to fulfill one's own selfish ends.
 
We now have a society wounded psychologically by the practices of the culture of death with women suffering the greatest psychological toll. Often psychological difficulties are predictable and recognized side effects of some medical treatment that is hostile to life. For example, many contraceptives, including some that are abortifacient, have depression and anxiety as common side effects. Contraception as an option for married couples is a sign of the mindset of the sexual revolution: that children are a burden and an inconvenience, that fertility is a disease to be treated instead of a gift to be cherished, and that sexual pleasure should be uncoupled from the creation of new life. Teens and adolescents are entitled to pursue sexual pleasure, according to this line of reasoning, but the consequences of fertility, of manhood and womanhood, are to be treated as diseases to be cured. Consequently, we have medical professionals and social workers deciding that it is preferable for young women to be given Norplant, the implanted contraceptive that stays effective for up to three years, rather than learning to control their sexual impulses. At the same time, they deem the clinical depressions, anxieties or panic disorders that can accompany use of this contraceptive as acceptable side effects. Unassailable medical journals have been reporting the association between Norplant and psychological problems for years.[1] In every branch of medicine we have to deal with side effects of necessary medical treatments. For example, depression can be a side effect of numerous drug treatments for maladies ranging from high blood pressure to multiple sclerosis. The difference here is that we, as a society, are choosing to assume the risk of severe psychological side effects in order to treat something that is not a disease, i.e. fertility.
 
The problem of teen pregnancy can be easily avoided and with no side effects. The solution is called abstinence. When certain practices violate human dignity and the intrinsic nature of womanhood and motherhood, they produce psychological problems based on the denial of the truth about the human person. The more common and yet more subtle area of psychological damage results not as a medical side effect of a particular treatment. Rather, psychological problems can arise as a response to some dehumanizing aspect of the treatment itself. Expressed in other words, psychological problems result not as side effects of medical treatment, but as a result of the health practices themselves. For example, it is a growing practice in obstetrics to recommend abortion when there is a "chance" that the child might be "defective." Or, when a mother is carrying three or four babies as a result of infertility treatments, doctors may recommend killing some of the babies through a procedure euphemistically called "selective reduction." The natural inclination of a mother is to embrace the new life within her and to protect and nurture all of her children, not just some. Instead she is forced to "choose" to kill, supposedly for the good of some of her children or because of the mistaken idea that it is better not to be born than to be born less than perfect. If such actions are contrary to a woman's inherent nature, just what psychological effect can they have? Researchers in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that the incidence of depression following selective abortion for suspected genetic defect was as high as 92 percent among women and as high as 82 percent among men. The percentage was greater than that usually associated with elective abortion or with delivery of a stillborn. They argued that what was needed was better counseling services to help the parents deal with the guilt expressed.[2]
 
The culture of death emphasizes psychological counseling to relieve people's guilt. That guilt, however, is the natural manifestation of God's law already inscribed in their hearts. It cannot be counseled away. It must be acknowledged and then it can be forgiven. The psychological damage wrought by the culture of death can only be dealt with by first acknowledging that some things are right and some always wrong, and then seeking forgiveness, and finding happiness in the restoration of a life lived according to God's plan for us all.
 
 Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University has spoken about the dualism of the person promoted by the secular culture. In his book, Clash of Orthodoxies, he says that when the self is considered in dualistic terms, the thinking, desiring, conscious self is separated from a person's biological self. Such a view is the MTV-generation approach to sexuality, that sees the body as an instrument, a "thing" possessed for pleasure but detached from their own personhood: "What I do with my body is my own business." It also is expressed in the depersonalization of sex: "This isn't about you or me . . . it's just sex." Similarly, the person who has absorbed this dualism would feel no guilt in selling her ova in order to make money. A recent ad in one California college newspaper promised to pay $100,000 for the eggs of a college-educated, athletic coed. Nor would a woman formed in this view hesitate to terminate the body's biological life because it cannot provide the conscious self with a life worthy of enjoyment. This dualism is present in the new reproductive technologies that depersonalize the ability to father a child or be a mother. It is found in technologies that extract sperm from dead men, that pay students to provide sperm or eggs for "banks" that offer them to the highest bidder, or the push to create artificial wombs. Interestingly enough, from a psychological point of view the dualistic perspective is fatally flawed, a fact confirmed by real life experiences. The human person is a body-person. He is not just a soul captured inside a body. Intuitively, we all know this. A person's body is part of and expresses the reality of who he is. Those who posit a dualistic view of the human being need only think of the horrible situation of rape in order to question their own assumptions. When a woman is raped, it is the whole person of the woman that suffers, not just the biological body. The mind reacts, consciously and unconsciously, and the soul as well. Healing the memories, mind, and spirit often takes far longer than healing the wounded body. Often spiritual guidance is sought and needed to heal the violation of the woman's being.
 
To delineate this point further, let's examine the case of Dissociative Disorder. Its is a psychiatric diagnosis documented in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association. It is considered as the person's response to an extremely traumatic, ongoing, early and severe childhood trauma. According to The Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology, Dissociative Disorders serve a psychological purpose, that of insulating the "executive" self from the full impact of the abuse, thereby preserving function and normal development. During this process various elements of the trauma are parceled out to separate selves. In its severe form of Multiple Personality Disorder, the selves are disconnected from each other by amnesia barriers that are porous in nature--and able to be triggered by later life events. Often the process of parceling out is not complete and it might involve cognitive aspects, such as dissociative amnesia, or behavioral aspects, such as dissociative fugue, or affective aspects, such as depersonalization disorder. In this case there is a dualism that has been created between the conscious or executive self and the body or parts of the body. However, it is considered a disorder and not a normal state of affairs, it has an identifiable etiology, which is pathological in nature, and the treatment consists in the unification of the self as one integrated unity.

The culture of death continuously communicates the message of this dualism which rationalizes promiscuous relationships, abortion, sterilization, egg donation, and many other practices contrary to the culture of life. If we are to derail the dualistic tendency in society we must articulate, promote, and live according to an integrated view of the human person--an understanding of who man is and his essential dignity. This task is essential not only for the sake of ending the violations of human dignity that occur each day within the culture of death; it is essential in building the culture of life.

[1. Wagner, K., Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 57 (1996): 152‑157; Wagner, K., Berenson, A., Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (1994): 478 480; Meirik, P., Farley, T., and Sivin, I., Obstetrics and Gynecology 97 (2001):539‑547.

2. Blumberg, B., Golbus, M., and Hanson, K., American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 122 (1975): 799-808. At the Podium, Issue No.: 92, Gladys Sweeney; FRC, 25Sept03]

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