The Catholic Thing
Melinda Gates’ Missed Opportunity Print E-mail
By Matthew Hanley   
Sunday, 08 July 2012

Melinda Gates is in London this week, spearheading a “groundbreaking summit” during which the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in collaboration with the British government, will launch a $4-billion effort to deliver “family planning” devices to 120 million women by the year 2020. On the basis of feeble yet predictable justifications – surprising only because they survived her “soul–searching” – International Family Planning has become her top priority. Not “population control,” mind you, or some other term that might make it sound coercive or imperialistic or anything like that.

She points to the 100,000 women who die annually in childbirth around the world – the subset is the revelation – after “unintended pregnancies,” and the 600,000 babies of such pregnancies who die in the first month of life. Unintended pregnancy itself, for all intents and purposes, becomes a cause of death – much like the complications and infections that are manageable here, but actually do kill there, whether a woman’s pregnancy is planned or not.

This paves the way for a fundamentally evasive approach to maternal and infant mortality in which upgrading the quality of medical care – insisting on actual survival strategies – is subordinated to the goal of reducing the number of pregnancies. For a private foundation that prides itself on innovation, embracing such a stale concept with its considerable ideological baggage shows a pronounced lack of imagination.

Its creative energies are fixated on upgrading contraceptive technology: developing new contraceptives that women could inject themselves, and perhaps even an entirely new class of (non-hormonal) drug without side effects. The foundation people are even entertaining the “crazy idea” (their words, meant positively) of creating an implantable device which a woman could turn on and off at will, and would last her entire reproductive lifetime.

Such intoxication with the promises of this type of technology, aside from its debased view of man, rooted in materialism, resembles a form of fideism conspicuously resistant to reason. It ignores our capacity to ascertain the full range of proclivities of human nature, which technology cannot tame, or even to observe the havoc contraception has wrought here in recent decades while, unlike actual advances in sanitation and medicine, making no dent in mortality rates.

This time it is to be different: technology will deliver. Countries will wiggle their way out of poverty too. That’s what our numbers say; never mind that artificial contraception, by virtue of the resulting collapse of marriage, has had an impoverishing effect here – even if the affluent consider it a routine accessory. This initiative will bring more poverty and destabilization, not less, by depriving the poor, and societies themselves, of their greatest resource: strong family ties. 

Mere demographic findings cannot sway such blind faith either: the number of children people actually want – their desired fertility rates – turns out to be the single best predictor for their actual fertility levels, and not to be that closely correlated to the availability of contraceptives. In other words, respected demographer Nicholas Eberstadt notes, family planning programs tend not to “make an important independent contribution to reducing fertility levels in developing nations.”

No controversy,” Gates pronounces contrary to such evidence, should really surround it at all. But she sees enough to want to distance herself from similar initiatives, past or present, tinged with coercion, racism, nationalism, eugenics – anything that could be viewed as emanating from the realm of culture rather than strictly benevolent science. 

  Melinda Gates, left, and her husband

She would presumably deny exporting “the real and gravest danger” lurking within western culture today, which Benedict XVI diagnosed as the “imbalance between technical possibilities and moral energy.”         

Moral energy? What does that mean?   Gates feels she is acting morally – thereby illustrating Benedict’s point that “the technical mentality relegates morality to the subjective realm.” She just feels that taking matters of sexuality or the natural law seriously means “not serving the other piece of the Catholic mission, which is social justice.”

That’s something she picked up in a Catholic high school run by Ursuline sisters who have now come to her defense by offering their blessing for her contraceptive initiative.  

And there you have it – an entirely emblematic portrait of an era: an influential lay Catholic, influenced by the meltdown in Catholic identity, which is to say by an alternative secular Magisterium, mimics rather than engages the modern world by advancing a hefty proposal heralded as “humanitarian,” but which is actually doomed from the get go.

It can have no other result, since it is based on the belief that what lies at the heart of all authentic human development – the moral fabric that nurtures and protects what Benedict terms the human ecology – is actually an obstacle to such development.

The defects of these proposals are sobering, though Gates seems convinced otherwise: what Benedict calls a lack of “serene rationality” places utopian designs above the dignity of the individual. It exemplifies the type of subjective moralism that has shown itself “capable of arriving at contempt for man in the name of great objectives.”

Although she has come to terms with opposing the “hierarchy” – an easy sounding target – specific theological goggles are not required to see all this. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, regarded artificial contraception as “a dismal abyss” and, in the 1920s, pleaded with its advocates to consider the repercussions, which have now grown into a vast forest, everywhere to be seen – but for the trees.

Gates has far more power than she realizes. It resides not in her bank account but in the fullness of her faith, with its confidence in reason and human capabilities, which she has regrettably left untapped. Tapping into such wisdom confidently, competently, might mean foregoing some applause. But people would take notice of a genuinely innovative alternative – and still want her grants. We might even then see glimpses of renewal and human development blooming in the unlikeliest places.

Matthew Hanley
is, with Jokin de Irala, M.D., the author of
Affirming Love, Avoiding AIDS: What Africa Can Teach the West, winner of a best-book award from the Catholic Press Association. His latest report, The Catholic Church & The Global AIDS Crisis is now available from the Catholic Truth Society, publisher to the Holy See in the U.K.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
written by Reginald Le Sueur, July 08, 2012
"Such intoxication with the promises of this type of technology, aside from its debased view of man, rooted in materialism, resembles a form of fideism conspicuously resistant to reason."

So is Matthew blaming both Fideism and Materialism?--polar opposites?- that really covers everything. Then he goes on to say that fertility is governed by how much people want to have babies;--why then the need for adoption by people who desperately want babies, but cannot have their own because infertile?
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written by the earlier Louise, July 08, 2012
Sad, sad, sad, sad, sad. What a sad world we live in when the only solution to a problem is to kill it off. Wipe the slate clean. Pretend it never existed. What shriveled souls there are in this sad world.

A woman told me once that she had had an abortion "33 years, eight months, and 13 days ago." Now, 33 years, eight months, and 13 days ago, she is a lonely, unhappy, miserable woman entering old age without husband or child to hold her hand through the inevitable dark times. Who will stand at her bedside when she takes her last breath?

Why don't we just kill off this woman, put her out of her misery, so that she doesn't have to go through that darkness alone? Kill her when she is asleep, so she won't even know what happened. Isn't that the best way to take care of the situation? No unwanted, lonely old women hanging around to remind us of the dark side of life. Kill them off. Be done with them.

Be done with them? The trouble is, that we are never done with them. From the moment of conception, not only a child's life begins, but a mother's life begins, also, and she will be a mother for all eternity, whether she gives birth to her baby or lets it be torn from her womb. But a baby is more easily destroyed than is the imprint of motherhood on a soul. It may be repressed and buried in worldly activity for a time, but one day that mother will wake up and say to herself, "I killed my child 33 years, eight months, and 13 days ago." God have mercy on us all.

written by Louise, July 08, 2012
Reginald, there are all sorts of belief systems; when they go unexamined by their adherents they become fideism. No contradiction.

Grump, easy for you to say, you are already here.
written by Dennis, July 08, 2012
@Reginald: I believe Matthew is referring to the fact that some people have as much faith in technology as many believers have in God. He is not speaking about Fideism in the traditional sense (hence it "resembles a form of fideism") but is not Fideism itself. For the second part of the comment, I am not sure exactly what he means, so perhaps he could clarify that for us.

@Grump: From a Catholic viewpoint, Goethe's last line is erroneous. We bring children into this world in order that they have an opportunity to be with God forever in the next. A child dying young is a tragedy for us, but if they are then in Heaven forever afterwards, it is a worthwhile exchange. Now, if this life is all there is, then we might as well also murder all orphans and under-10-year-olds that parents no longer want, because why allow unwanted children to grow up in such a world that you described?
written by Chris in Maryland, July 08, 2012
Grump's quote from Faust discloses the flawed, disappointed and impoverished of symmetry of Goethe's philosophy...that things come from nothing...and therefore return to nothing.

For those who have been gifted by The Father to know that we come from Him, our fervent hope is that we will return to Him...and as the apostle testifies...our hope does not disappoint.
written by savvy, July 08, 2012
"Millions of babies and young children die every year from disease, malnutrition, neglect and other evils. Why bring unwanted children into such a world? "

Why not invest in education and better health care then? NFP is a viable option, off course you need a healthy relationship for it. So this more about empowering selfish men and making money than it is about women or children.

My sister and her husband practise NFP and just have two kids. This also makes it hard to cheat on your spouse.
written by tz, July 08, 2012
Mother Theresa's Nuns have taught NFP to Catholics, Muslims, and Hindus. It is as or more effective than 'technological' methods, but the Gates Foundation has stock in Big Pharma so they won't get dividends from the taxpayer dollars if natural means are used. Much like all the Farmer suicides in India over Monsanto's GM cotton - another Gates-of-hell promotion.
written by chris, July 09, 2012
Great job Melinda! Keep up the good work.
written by Emma Okorie, July 09, 2012
Unfortunately, the Gates believe they have everything to the extent they no longer have regard for God. Whatever they can do that would line their pockets must be done at all costs. But it is important for them to know that the money they have today can be gone for ever tomorrow. Ask those who had challenged God to battle in the past. May God help them out of their present state. Amen.
written by St.Olaf's kid, July 09, 2012
But Mr. Hanley, YOU missed an opportunity when you failed to suggest any concrete ways for Melinda Gates to spend her money in a Catholic way. (Founding Catholic schools? Starting NFP classes? (You're the columnist, you could have thought of something!) Even to many Catholics, it sounds utterly logical and humanitarian to say "take a pill" and if you don't offer an alternative, it just looks like you are carping and scolding. Worse, you make Catholic teaching look antiquated and feeble, when it is the only young answer in the world.
written by Jacob R, July 09, 2012
Good luck waiting for Mrs. Gates to rediscover her faith.

She's having entirely too much fun being congratulated by influential secularists for murdering black children so their kids can live in pristine nature settings undiminished by an overabundance of poverty animals!
written by Grump, July 09, 2012
But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 4:3

But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun. Job 3:10

written by Dennis, July 09, 2012
@Grump: Regarding Job, which translation did you use because I could not find one that matched it? In any case, you have a man in anguish cursing having to go through suffering. This is an understandable reaction but not proof it is better to not exist than to be exist in suffering. In addition, Job 32 shows Job admitting he was speaking about things he did not understand and retracting.

The claim in Ecclesiastes is made with a lack of the knowledge given to us through Christ, namely that there is a resurrection and an opportunity to be with God for all eternity. The author repeatedly says there is no difference in the destination of different men and claims there is no reward for man after he dies (9:5), so he seems to conclude that if all you are going to do is suffer, it is better to not be born. But if he would have had the revelation Christ gave to us (that there is life after death and possible rewards after we die), it is reasonable, though speculative, to think he would have written differently.
written by Louise, July 09, 2012
@Grump: Ecclesiasticus 2:1-5

Your quote could very well apply to Jesus Christ who was not yet born at that time. "not yet" is not the same as "not ever".

written by Greg, July 12, 2012
If the Pope or Melinda bishop won't excommunicate her and the Urslime sisters of apostacy then let's stop complaining. She has billions at her disposal and can do what the hell she likes.

They have the power to do something but they won't.

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