Should nuns take the Pill?

Did you hear the one about how doctors in Australia are recommending that nuns take contraceptive pills to reduce their death rates from cancer? It’s true. Dr. Kara Britt from Monash University, Melbourne, and Professor Roger Short from the University of Melbourne published an article in the medical journal the Lancet recommending that nuns be allowed to take the pill.

Why? It has been common knowledge for a while that women who never bear children have a higher risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer. Apparently, pregnancy and breastfeeding offer protection by reducing the number of ovulatory cycles a woman has in her lifetime.

Studies in the 20th century showed a higher death rate from these cancers among nuns. The Australian researchers suggest that putting them on the pill would help. Using oral contraceptives has been shown to reduce the cancer death rates by 12 percent. Using the pill for this purpose shouldn’t violate the rules of the church because it’s being used for health, not for contraception, Britt and Short argue. No response from the Vatican yet.

Assuming most of us aren’t nuns, have you ever had a doctor suggest you take the pill for health reasons even when you weren’t worried about contraception? My doctors have suggested the pill to regulate my periods and to even out my moods but never for cancer protection. If we’ve never given birth, we’re in the same boat as the nuns.

I’d love to hear what you think about this.

5 thoughts on “Should nuns take the Pill?

  1. I've never had it suggested I take the pill as cancer protection. But you're making me think about it. And I perhaps wish it had been suggested if it is a significant difference. It was recently suggested I use the Mirena Coil for health reasons – not as a contraceptive (I don't need one) – and I'm considering it.

    If you're taking the pill for health reasons, it's no different to any other medication. I can't see why nuns couldn't take it. It seems logical. I will watch this with interest.


  2. This is a very interesting post! Especially given the recent controversy over HHS. I was put on the pill when I was 18 to combat the PMDD that came along with my inability to naturally ovulate. When I began attending a Catholic university, I was first blocked from receiving the progesterone pills, but the health center later got around it b/c I was taking it for regulation and not contraceptive purposes. I later decided (with the urging of my husband) to take myself off of the pill and deal with the PMDD spiritually. I'm glad I did; even if I am at a higher risk of certain cancers, I don't think hormonal regulation for the rest of my life is the way I'd want to deal with it. I have a very different understanding of contraceptives now that I'm both Catholic and childless-by-marriage. I regret having supported the contraceptive industry for as long as I did, and I am willing to take whatever the Lord gives me. I'm not in favor of medicating women who have not born children b/c I don't believe there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Maybe the good Lord wants us by his side sooner? 🙂


  3. Mali, It's certainly worth asking the doctor about it. I'm still miffed that my male doctor thought I needed my moods to be regulated with the pill, although my PMS was horrific.
    Professor, I'm with you these days. I don't want to take anything unnecessary. After I married Fred, I didn't need a contraceptive because he'd had a vasectomy, but I'm Catholic, too, and I wonder about this stuff now. I pray I don't get cancer, but we don't know what God has planned, do we?


  4. I know the pill is used to control endometriosis, and I've known women who absolutely needed that therapy to survive. Generally, birth control pills are safe and any health risks from taking them are low – but I wonder if taking them as a preventative measure from cancer is enough to outweigh any risk (however low) of taking them at all. That said, it's hard to know whether the incidence of cancer in nuns is because of being childless or because of some other predisposition or circumstance (such as less attention to gynecological care). I've read that the incidence of Alzheimer's disease in nuns is considerably lower than that in the general population. Do you think it's because they never had kids? hmmm? Interesting post.


  5. Dear pro,
    Interesting ideas. I know the pill has its own risks, so do they balance out the cancer risk? I had heard that about nuns and Alzheimer's, too, although I don't remember why they had fewer cases of Alzheimer's.
    This is a great discussion. Keep it going.


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