Column on How Fictional Sex Never Makes Babies

This column starts with the following observation:

“The season finale of Grey’s Anatomy last week included a tryst between two supposedly terminal brain cancer patients in their late teens, with their brain surgeons guarding the door. It’s okay if she gets pregnant, right? She’s going to die anyway.”

Now, this raises an interesting question I never really thought of, regarding a question that has haunted me my whole life.

Now, obviously, premarital sex is a mortal sin *in most cases*. The real question is what constitutes “premarital” sex.

Can. 1116 §1. If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only:
1/ in danger of death;
2/ outside the danger of death
provided that it is prudently foreseen that the situation will continue for a month.

I’ve always thought of this canon as being very interesting, as someone faced with the constant awareness of my mortality. As a teenager, I used to wonder about such a scenario.

There are basically four ways people deal with knowledge of their impending mortality: a) denial; b) bitterness; c) intense spirituality or d) hedonism. Everyone touches on all of them at some point. Even for a fairly devout Catholic, one still wonders about the worldly goods God has given us. Before my surgery, I was fairly Manichean in my thinking. Knowing your body as only an instrument of torture, which also tempts you to sin, tends to do that.

I desperately longed to know what was good in this world. I’ve never quite understood how, especially when we believe in the Resurrection of the Body, God could make all this for us, and yet say that we have to give it all up for Heaven. That we know this in this life, and suddenly, after a short time, this life is over, and we go on to an eternity of something totally different.

There are two responses a believer can have to that situation: a) the response of the ascetic, which is to reject the world completely as temporary and shallow (and thus border on Manicheanism) or b) to hope at least for some taste of these temporal goods so as to appreciate God’s creation before you go on to the next step. One should hope that there’s an option c) and that Heaven really is just the Reality behind these Shadow-Lands, as C. S. Lewis would put it.

Anyway, I grew up constantly wondering about when my time would come, and how it would work. Would my aorta “blow” at 15? 20? 25? 30? 40? 50? Would I die a sudden death, or know it was coming? How far in advance? Would I have surgery? Would I die during surgery? Would I have a surgery and live a relatively long life?

A romantic at heart, and profoundly lonely in my suffering, those questions were always accompanied by the question of whether God would ever allow me to know the love of a woman (in all senses of that phrase). The prospect of dying without at least having a girlfriend horrified me. I did have certain female friends and acquaintances whom I’d harbored crushes on. I always liked Eponine’s death in Les Misearbles (wasn’t really familiar with Cyrano de Bergerac at the time, but that works, too) and thought it would be cool to die like that: confessing, in your dying breath, your unprofessed love to the person who was oblivious, and being content at least with some mild reciprocation.

Or, maybe, I’d make it into adulthood without having to either have heart surgery or die, and it would happen when I was safely married.

One scenario I dreamed vividly one night when I was about 15 or 16 involved me being a lawyer and collapsing dramatically of an aortic dissection after arguing to overturn Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court.

Or maybe I’d *have* the surgery as a teenager, and meet a girl in the hospital during my recovery. (There was a cute nurse in the hospital that I kind of flirted with a bit).

But, mostly, I wanted to have that speciall person by my side when I went through that moment in my life. Now, I know what would happen: I’d have my surgery, and that loneliness would be a big part of what made it most traumatic for me.

But a recurrent thought in all those speculations, and still today, is the question of sex: first, of the unmarried, dying person getting an emergency marriage to have one chance at sexual intercourse, or of the dying, married person having one last union before dying, as a marital viaticum.

A few months ago, I was reading a rather thorough (and sometimes overly scrupulous) examination of conscience booklet, which listed “having sex with a dying person” as a sin. Presumably, the author of this booklet was referring to extramarital sex with a dying person. However, I never really thought that “sex with a dying person” could be any more a sin than anything else. If anything, Canon 1116 seemed to provide the dying person with a kind of an “out.”

Anyway, this column touched on those thoughts by raising an issue I’d never quite considered:

But, regardless of that, the columnist above raises an interesting
critique. Speaking for the characters on the show, she says,
sarcastically, that, “It’s okay if she gets pregnant, right? She’s going to
die anyway.”

Now, in her context, she’s talking about the avoidance of pregnancy as a consequence of sex in most fictional mass media depictions (or, in fact, of any other consequences).

But something else comes of it. If a woman is dying, and she has intercourse, and she gets pregnant, then that means the baby is going to die with her.

Is it then wrong for a dying married woman to have intercourse with her husband (and vice versa) in the chance that they could conceive a baby who will die with the mother?

My own immediate answer would be “no,” because that’s no different than saying, “I shouldn’t have a baby, because my baby will have Genetic Disorder X and may die at such-and-such a time.” The woman may have a very high likelyhood of dying, but she may also have a miraculous recovery, or a remission, or just linger on longer than expected.

However, I would like to know more about this, or if there’s any kind of established consideration of this subject.

2 responses to “Column on How Fictional Sex Never Makes Babies

  1. This isn’t related to your post, which raises a very interesting question, by the way. I just wanted to ask your prayers for my Grandma. We found out last night that she has less than a week to live, so we’re driving down to FL tomorrow to hopefully get a chance to say goodbye.

    BTW, our family keeps yours in our prayers every day.

  2. I think it would be more like is it wrong to have relations if you know you are going to die soon anyways. I don’t know–plenty of people have been brought into the world that way, I am sure.

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