The Spiritual Consequences of Sterlization

Ellen Gable Hrkach

Ellen Gable Hrkach

Last year, on one of the morning shows, a couple was asked to carry a camcorder around while they debated and discussed their decision to have a vasectomy. After the births of three boys — the youngest only a few months old — they made the decision to go ahead and have a permanent solution carried out because their plate was “full with three small boys.” The segment showed the husband at the doctor’s office having the procedure done. They were interviewed two months later and the wife said they were “relieved,” “felt the freedom of not having to worry about more children.”  The man said the operation was “quick and painless,” “very easy,” “great experience.” And, just to convince all the viewers that vasectomy is the best decision a couple can ever make, the doctor stated that there were “no long-term side effects from vasectomy.”

While I find that particular research suspect (i.e. there have been noted long-term side effects), these are not the worst side effects from vasectomy and tubal ligation. The most destructive are the spiritual repercussions. While contraception in itself separates a couple during marital relations, sterilization seeks to separate a couple permanently in their most intimate embrace and the spiritual consequences are far greater and more destructive than any of the physical side effects.

Case in point: we know of a couple who became sterilized after having a large number of children. They knew NFP, but they gave in to the pressure to become sterilized. A few years after the sterilization, however, one of their teenaged sons tragically committed suicide. The year after their son died, they sent out letters to many in the Catholic community informing them that they had been involved in intensive spiritual counseling. Here’s what they wrote:

During the night before his death, while our son was downstairs writing his notes to us and spending his last hours in utter hopelessness, there were at least three times when we were awake. It seems that it would have been a simple matter for God to prompt one of us to go downstairs and discover the horrible tragedy that was threatening our son. In fact, He probably was prompting us, but we were not living in God’s order, so we could not hear His prompts.”

About their sterilization, they said this: “We knew this was contrary to church teaching so we both went to confession almost immediately afterwards, but we really didn’t have true contrition because of our blindness. Little did we realize the tremendous suffering we would bring to our family, parish and community.”

At the time the letter was written, they were in the process of arranging for a reversal.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the cause and effect situation they present. However, I include it here because they believe that their decision to become sterilized was a contributing factor to their son’s suicide.

Other cases in point: three couples we taught NFP to many years ago decided to throw away the NFP charts and become sterilized. Two of the couples are now divorced, one couple is separated.

Children who know that their parents have been sterilized (despite the teaching of the Church that it is a mortal sin) grow up thinking that they don’t have to be obedient to Church teachings on these matters.

Sterilization may seem like the easy way out, but in actuality, it permanently and physically separates a couple not only during their most intimate physical embrace, but in their spiritual embrace and separates them from God. It also serves as a poor example to the children. While there are many physical side effects, the spiritual repercussions are far more dangerous to a marriage.

For couples who need to avoid pregnancy, Natural Family Planning is a safe, effective and moral alternative to sexual sterilization and allows the married couple to remain as one. For more information on NFP: or email me at

Text copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach

Image purchased from iStock


About Author

Ellen and her husband, James, have been certified NFP teachers for the Couple to Couple League since 1984 and teach Theology of the Body to teens. She’s also an award-winning, bestselling author of ten books, an editor, a publisher and a self-publishing book coach. Her newest novel is Ella's Promise. The mother of five adult sons and grandmother of one precious grandson, Ellen lives in Pakenham, Ontario with her husband. Contact her at Full Quiver Publishing.


  1. We, too, gave into society’s “quick fix” after three high-risk pregnancies and pressure from family and doctors. No matter how many confessions you make, the guilt is always there.

  2. So sorry, Melissa. I know many couples who were pressured to get sterilized when they were most vulnerable (just after the birth or just before the birth or when the wife was ill). A good spiritual director can help. Thanks for sharing…

  3. I to have had issues in this are. After 3 pregnancies, each more high risk than the last, and 2 children with medical issues, I was told by doctor, husband and mom that this would be the best health wise for me and for my family. Although I sought counsel of my parish Priest at the time and have gone to confession, the sadness I feel never goes away. Had I maybe had more information given to me I could have chosen a different path. Sometimes we are faced with issues and try to make the best decision possible with what we have at the time.

    • I believe that a mother’s life is just as important as her children’s. I also understand that we sometimes feel guilt for decisions that we make that are in the best interest of everyone involved. They are not always what we would have chosen in a perfect world. God knows that we are doing the best we can. Let’s try to have as much mercy on ourselves as He has for us.

      • I agree with you, Shannon, that a mother’s life is just as important as her children’s. I’ll take it a step further and say that a mother’s spiritual life is just as important as her children’s. Sterilization is not a good, moral choice (Catechism of Catholic Church 2368, CR CCC 2297) and is not “in the best interests of everyone.” It permanently destroys the life-giving aspect of the marital act and the point of my article is that it has spiritual consequences. That being said, our society does not try to uphold our Catholic faith, so I certainly understand why the previous commenters made their choices and I am not judging them for their decisions. However, I do understand their guilt and sadness. Like, you, I agree that God is merciful and forgiving and we need to be merciful and forgiving to ourselves. I have also experienced high risk pregnancies and pressure from doctors and relatives to become sterilized. Not only did my husband and I choose not to become sterilized (instead we used NFP), we went on to have two more children (five total). While those pregnancies were difficult, we have never regretted making that decision and we’re thankful that we did not listen to the doctors and others and instead listened to our faith and our hearts.

  4. Kimberly, you’re right that we make the best decision possible with the information we have at the time. I certainly understand why you made that decision. Although your doctor, parish priest and family had your best intentions at heart, I also wish you could have had more information so that you could have made a more informed decision. Please remember that God loves you unconditionally and knows the sadness you feel.

  5. my husband (who was non-catholic when we married) and I made the same choice very early in our marriage after having two miscarriages and two live births. the guilt never leaves but God does make all things new. after about a decade where God was truly removed from our marriage we underwent a reconversion to the faith and my husband converted to Catholicism. everything changed and we are getting ready to celebrate 24 years together. three years ago our pastor, having become familiar with our story, asked us to become marriage mentors and NFP instructors to help inform and guide the new couples at our parish. we never thought in a million years that we would be teaching NFP but we do three classes a year and there have been many “conversions” due to our story and God’s grace speaking to these couples. God is good all the time and we are blessed by this ministry.

  6. Hello Mary, thank you so much for sharing your story! God does indeed make all things new. It’s wonderful that your pastor encouraged you to become marriage mentors and NFP teachers!

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