Thursday, June 18, 2009

He Said: Surgical Sterilization

A controversial subject that comes up for LDS is birth control and even more specifically the method of birth control. Today I thought it would be interesting to explore surgical sterilization. I don't have any person in mind including the case I cite. Since I have eight children people tend to talk to me very openly about birth control. It comes up in a variety ways usually just general conversation like how many children have you had. When I say I have eight children they look at me funny and make a joke or seriously talk to me about why did I have so many.

Since 1987 the LDS generally authorities have had a policy of staying out of a couple's bedroom I usually don't go in to the subject in any great detail and try to ignore it. But from time to time I still hear about it with members telling me to use some form of birth control and on occasional telling me specifically I can take care of it in fifteen minutes surgically.

I did a search on birth control and found out that the official position is:

Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and to nurture them. The decision of how many children to have and when to have them is a private matter for the husband and wife.
In addition Church members are told not to judge one another. Even though birth control is a private matter it doesn't stop people from discussing it with me. Some people, on finding out I have eight children, question whether I can support them or send them to college or whether it is an environmentally or emotionally good. I assure most that none of them starve nor have they not gotten a college education nor even are in debt for school and that somehow we manage to get by and my children are no more screwed up than anyone else's. The majority make a joke including Mormons like didn't your parents ever teach you about birth control. Even LDS members wonder why I had so many children and make sure to tell me that less is better.

I have never practiced birth control other than abstinence (which should be obvious). Plus birth control in any form goes against my beliefs even if I weren't LDS. Even though I have my doubts about my worthiness for godhood somewhere in the back my mind the concept that God populates worlds without end and my wife's recent fundamentalist kick about plural marriage would suggest I can't populate worlds without the ability to have multiple kids in some fashion in the next life.

Over the years I have encountered a handful of people who have taken exception to the number of children that I have. Some have suggested that I should get a vasectomy since it is a minor outpatient procedure that is less invasive for a man than for a woman and only takes fifteen minutes. They even point out to me that should I remarry and have a younger wife that there is a good chance I could have it reversed.

A few years ago the subject of vasectomy came up with a close friend in a high priest Sunday meeting where he made a joke about being sterilized later we talked about it in greater detail. In He Said/She Said I wrote:
I think LDS bishops do a poor job disseminating information from the handbook. I once had a conversation with a friend who had been a counselor in a bishopric in one of my ward who had a vasectomy in which he had no clue what the church's position was. The man considered himself an ultraconservative Mormon. It came up when he jokingly told me when I mentioned my wife and I were having my sixth child that he wouldn't be worrying about that with his wife ever again since he now shot blanks. I looked at him and said you know that the LDS Church discourages that and it is in the Handbook of Instruction. He said he didn't have a copy and never read it even when he was in the bishopric.
I can't judge my friend too harshly since he did it out of consideration for his wife. He had no clue that he should even consult with his leaders nor that it was discouraged. I really do feel that it is between him and his wife and the Lord.

If I had to make that decision for myself I have wondered about the practice of surgical sterilization and whether I engaged in it would I put my eternal life in jeopardy. One of the core principals of Mormonism is to be a God or Goddess in the afterlife. We are told that if we are worthy that we will have sealed upon us the blessings of kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers, dominions and exaltations, with all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that we should be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth so that we may have joy and rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. A person who is surgically sterilized chooses consciously not to have any progeny which is a part of Godhood.

Spencer W. Kimball in the October 1974 General Conference was a little harder than me:

We marry for eternity. We are serious about this. We become parents and bring wanted children into the world and rear and train them to righteousness.

We are aghast at the reports of young people going to surgery to limit their families and the reputed number of parents who encourage this vasectomy. Remember that the coming of the Lord approaches, and some difficult-to-answer questions will be asked by a divine Judge who will be hard to satisfy with silly explanations and rationalizations. He will judge justly, you may be sure.

To find out the church's official statement I look at the Encylopedia on Mormonism that listed the 1998 Handbook on Instructions statement on surgical sterilization and saw that there is more of an option than I thought. Also the 2006 Handbook also reiterated it word for word:
Surgical Sterilization (Including Vasectomy). "Surgical sterilization should only be considered (1) where medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health, or (2) where birth defects or serious trauma have rendered a person mentally incompetent and not responsible for his or her actions. Such conditions must be determined by competent medical judgment and in accordance with law. Even then, the person or persons responsible for this decision should consult with each other and with their bishop (or branch president) and receive divine confirmation through prayer" (11-5).
So the policy has not changed in over twenty-five years. It appears that you can gain permission to do it if there are extenuating circumstances.

I am sure there are a some legitimate reasons to have surgical sterilization for women and men who have physical problems. I think for a man or a woman consciously choosing sterilization other than for medical conditions can be a dangerous practice in view of the Mormon concept of eternal procreation. I understand it is less invasive for men but the thing that bothers me about it is that it seems hypocritical to think you can be a God creating worlds when you choose in this world to fix the procreative power to circumvent having children. What will change your desire in the next life to all of a sudden decide to have millions of them like the sands of the sea and populate worlds without end.


  1. Wow, I hope God isn't as black and white as you are in your views. I guess your wife is just around to birth babies for you and same in the next life. Mortality is so varied and we as humans have so many different trials and tribulations that we are going through. I'm glad that you and your wife were able to have as many children as you wanted and I'm sorry that so many people have complained to you about how you've had. I get it from the opposite end. I only have one child and don't plan on having more than that and my DH and I waited five years after marriage to start our family. My pregnancy and birth experience was extremely traumatic, I also went through post-partum depression. I have no question that all of Heavenly Father's children will have a chance to receive bodies and partake of the gospel if they so choose.
    And in the next life I'm pretty sure the ways of procreation will be vastly different so I'm sure I'll have more desire for children in the next life as the traumatizing emotional and physical processes won't be there.

  2. Interesting, it seems to me that you think the surgery will be permanent in the afterlife. Circumstances will be different in eternity than it is here on earth. We are taught that our bodies will be made perfect again. My husband was in the bishoprick and reiterates the churches discouragement the S.S. concept often when he hears about church members getting sterilized. I am getting a tubal ligation in a couple weeks. My husband is not encouraging me, he would rather me not, even though we both know we don't want to have anymore children. (4 kids, 2 boys/2 girls) I do not feel the need to get permission from my Bishop. I do not feel it is fair for me to be on birth control for 20+ years until I go through metopause. Or to constantly worry about an unplanned (to me possibly unhealthy) pregnancy. I care about the children I have to want to give them all the support, love, and attention I can. I don't want to streatch myself out so thin that my children get neglected because mom keeps having more babies. Just because your kids get older doesn't make taking care of them any easier. If that is selfish of me then I will face God and take my punishment for wanting to be a good, SANE mother.

  3. its true that Children are one of the greatest blessings in life but if you need no more kids than both take a combine decision and then use the procedure of birth control

  4. I feel compelled to share my story of personal revelation which I received when I was pregnant with my fourth child. I am the mother of 6 children and the grandmother of 5 with the 6th due in July 2012.
    I am a convert to the Church. I joined when I was 20 years of age. I was the first, that I am aware of that had become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. My mother urged me often after my 2nd child to have my tubes tied. By the time I was in my 3rd month with my 4th child she told me that she would pay to have it done after the birth of number 4 if I would choose to do so. I felt that it made sense, after all, I would now have brought 4 children into the world, so it was agreed to do this.
    One afternoon I had put my 3 children down for their naps and was looking forward to reading and quiet time for the next hour or so. It was now my break time. I had commenced reading, with no thought towards the agreement my mother and I had made when all of a sudden I received a revelation, spirit to spirit, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that I should 'not' go through with the procedure that would end my mortal ability to bear children. He said that procreation is an eternal gift from God and that if I should choose to loose it in mortality, that I would loose it throughout all of eternity. I was numbed by the power of this knowledge. I was surprised at receiving it for my thoughts were no where near anything religious at that moment but I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was a personal revelation to me, and that it was a warning to me. Tears flowed as I contemplated on what I had just been told.
    I chose not to have the procedure at my mothers dismay. After my 4th was born, It was 4 years (1989) before I had my fifth and a year and a half later(1990) when my sixth was born. I felt that I was given a few years to recover/rest before my last two were brought into the world.
    I need to say, that I in no way intend that this revelation is towards anyone but me. It is a personal matter between us and our Lord and each situation is different, but I will say that it is not a matter to toy with. The power of procreation is an eternal gift and should always be reverenced and prayed about.
    I would like to say that at that time, I honestly had no idea of the Churches standing on this matter, but as the years have passed, I realize that my Father in heaven loves me and those precious souls that my husband and I brought forth... and I am eternally grateful to Him for that moment that truth for me was revealed. It was an act of love on His part and an act of faith on mine to choose not to let loose of this precious power, procreation.

  5. I appreciate your vulnerability in sharing the chiding you have received through the years about having a big family. I have 5 living children (we lost twins in 2005) and have pondered the subject of birth control. Most, if not all, have unintended consequences. We've used many. Personally, I'm learning that doing things in consultation with others is a blessing, not an admission of my incompetence. I have blind spots that others, especially those with with divine inspiration because of their calling, can see. I don't abdicate my own freedom of choice to others without examination and putting to a spiritual test; nor do I feel that the LDS church has ever asked that of me. True, members, and maybe even local, volunteer leaders, have suggested it out of their own error. But, never God or His prophets. Prior to proceeding with a surgical sterilization, I have no problem with seeking consultation with my bishop as the counsel in the handbook requires.

  6. This is interesting, I have only viewed vasectomy and tubal ligation as "birth control". Regarding the statement in the HB saying that individuals should consult their bishop, I think that pertains to when they are considering the procedure for someone else who falls under the second situation (mentally incompetent, birth defects). That being said, the church does adjust these handbooks. Open adoption was once "strongly discouraged" (which is no longer the case). I think of vasectomies the same way I think of having a finger amputated... I'm promised my body will be restored. You are arguing that you won't be able to procreate in the eternities, but if that is true, does that mean I will also struggle with diabetes or depression in the eternities? I will totally give you that whatever attitude/tendencies you have now will still be present later, so if you're getting a vasectomy because you're trying to make a statement about how you hate children... then that might be an issue later :)

  7. Many couples think that sterilization is an easy way to get rid of having more children, but it has many symptoms that affect life of a woman. If you want healthy life, then tubal reversal is only a single way for you.