The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 2019

Rev. Cory Catron
Pages 529-532

Functionalism in the 2018 CDF Responsum

In 2018 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a responsum ad dubium, addressing the question of whether a hysterectomy is morally licit in cases wherein miscarriage is foreseen with medical certainty if the woman were to conceive. The CDF responded in the positive, explaining that “it does not regard sterilization.” The responsum provoked great controversy, with some commentators wondering at the prudence of issuing the teaching, and others questioning whether it represented a departure from the Catholic moral tradition. This paper looks at a further area of concern in the reasoning of the responsum, namely that it departs from an essentialist account of the human person and of the organs and systems within the human body, and it moves toward a functionalist account of the meaning of the body and bodily systems as arising from whether they are functional. This represents a distressing shift in language from the previous hermeneutic employed by the magisterium, which could open the door to further controversy.