Nuns should consider taking the birth control pill to help decrease the risk of cancer, Australian researchers say. A paper published in medical journal The Lancet suggests the women face a higher risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer due to their lack of sexual activity.
Studies of 31,658 Catholic nuns in the United States between 1900 and 1954 have confirmed the risks.
In a recent article, ABC News explained the situation:
Because they don't experience pregnancy or lactation, women who don't have sex have more ovulatory menstrual cycles. That increased number of cycles is directly linked to an increased risk of cancer. But the birth control pill -- a form of contraception condemned by the Catholic Church -- has been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer by up to 60 percent.
The Catholic Church has historically been against contraception, but researcher Kara Britt points out that there might be a loophole that would allow nuns to take the pill for health purposes, according to Time.
The Humanae Vitae, a letter explaining the church's stance on the regulation of birth, says it is acceptable to use otherwise prohibited substances if they provide medical benefit.
The passage from the 1968 document by Pope Paul VI reads:
...The Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from -- provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.
And although the document doesn't specify the Church's stance on nuns using contraception, the Telegraph points out that researchers say the women should have the option.
The scientists even go so far as to suggest that the church should supply the pill directly to nuns, an idea that doesn't sit well with many clergy members.
Father Brian Lucas, general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, says any suggestion that the Catholic Church supply the medication is "ridiculous," the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
"The question of whether nuns are prescribed hormonal medication is entirely a matter between the individual nun and her doctor, taking into account her risk factors and personal health needs," Lucas told the paper. "It has nothing to do with any church teaching on contraception."
One nun told ABC News that while the pill might help prevent certain cancers, it also comes with risks, such as blood clots.
"The suggestion that all nuns should take contraception is rather sweeping and almost irresponsible," Sister Mary Ann Walsh told ABC. "There are risks with the pill just as there are risks with doing nothing with regard to uterine and ovarian cancer."