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Why BBC Was Wrong About AIDS Prevention

SPUC Director Says Science Backs Up Church's Emphasis on Chastity

LONDON, NOV. 21, 2003 (Zenit) - A recent television program on AIDS prevention failed to note that scientific evidence indicates the Catholic Church is right when it advocates abstinence and marital fidelity, says a pro-life observer.

John Smeaton, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said as much in an open letter to the director general of BBC in response to the network's program "Sex and the Holy City."

The program, which was screened to coincide with the recent 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II, claimed to investigate the Church's teachings on sexuality.

Smeaton shared with Zenit the scientific and empirical evidence that contradicts the BBC's statements, which he thinks implied that the Pope's personal views on contraception and abortion are causing misery and death in the developing world.

Q: What inspired you to write this open letter to the BBC?

Smeaton: The BBC continues to command a great deal of influence and respect around the world, but it remains accountable to virtually no one. When it makes unsubstantiated and misleading allegations of this nature, the results are very damaging for all those who work to protect human life.

SPUC is not a religious organization, but the Panorama program attacked the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion and human sexuality that we share. We felt duty-bound as a Society to expose its one-sided and inaccurate coverage of this subject.

Q: What were your main points of contention with the BBC program?

Smeaton: From beginning to end, the program presupposed that the Church's prohibition of abortion and birth control was the major cause of poverty and suffering in the developing world. This view was never once challenged in the course of the program.

In the part of the program that dealt with Nicaragua, cheap pro-abortion tactics were used unashamedly, such as the use of unreferenced figures for maternal death through illegal abortion and the portrayal of pregnant child rape-victims as the norm.

In the section on Manila, outdated Malthusian arguments were used to present contraception as the magical answer to poverty and homelessness. In the part about Kenya, the program went so far as to suggest that the Church was condemning people to death from AIDS by "peddling rumor and superstition."

We are not saying that the issues do not warrant scrutiny. Our major complaint is that the BBC made no attempt at presenting a balanced, honest and accurate report.

Q: What are the problems with using condoms as the primary solution to stopping AIDS?

Smeaton: The major problem is that they are not safe. This is not even a contentious point. The condom manufacturers themselves point this out. The issue of viral leakage is certainly open to dispute but, even simply taking into account the danger of a condom's rupturing or slipping off, the risk of HIV transmission is very real.

Condom use may reduce the risk of transmission, but to spread the message that condom use prevents AIDS is a dangerous lie. It is no good saying that the risk is "only 15%," or "only 1 in 10" when we are talking about human lives.

We have to ask ourselves whether the decision-makers and birth control advocates would be quite so cavalier if we were talking about a terminal condition that was transmitted non-sexually. For example, would health care professionals advise a chain smoker at serious risk of lung cancer to smoke cigarettes with better filters rather than giving up smoking altogether?

Worse, would they advise him to give his wife and children masks to reduce the amount of smoke they breathed in so that he could smoke freely around the house rather than telling him to act responsibly and not expose them to any risk at all?

The second major problem is that condoms encourage irresponsible behavior because people believe themselves to be better protected than they actually are. A paper entitled "Condoms and Seat Belts: The Parallels and the Lessons," which was published in a UK medical journal called The Lancet, noted that "a vigorous condom promotion policy could increase rather than decrease unprotected sexual exposure if it has the unintended effect of encouraging a greater overall level of sexual activity."

The figures bear this out. Botswana has the highest distribution of condoms, but 39% of the population is infected with AIDS. However, when the archbishop of Nairobi made the same point in a reputable medical journal, he was accused of talking "scientific nonsense."

Q: Are there independent scientific studies that back up objections to condoms?

Smeaton: Yes there are. First, to reaffirm my ...

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