Sterilization and Marriage

Dear Grace,
Should a man and a woman marry in the Church when they already know up front that they are physically unable to have children due to sterilization by hysterectomy in the woman?

I am assuming that by your question you are asking if the Church would consider it morally permissible for them to marry under these circumstances. The answer is yes, they may marry even if they are incapable of having children due to sterility, as long as the condition is known to both of them and has not been kept hidden in any way (canon 1084, § 3; 1098).

The Church would have to counsel this couple very carefully, however, in order to be certain that each of them understands what they are undertaking. It would need to be explained to them that, when entering into marriage, they both completely understand and accept that no natural children will ever be born to them. This would include children brought about through any means artificial such as in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogate motherhood. Use of these biotechnologies would be in direct opposition to the moral law of God for marriage and would therefore not be an option open to them (Donum vitae).

Regarding hysterectomy, we know that it is a procedure that involves removal of the uterus, thus rendering pregnancy impossible. Hysterectomy is therefore a sterilizing operation. An important question here is: what were the reasons for the hysterectomy? If the surgery was performed specifically to prevent pregnancy, then this would have been a grave sin against the human body. The woman would have to approach the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, asking forgiveness for this serious offense before entering Holy Matrimony.

We know, however, that sometimes hysterectomy is performed for therapeutic reasons when it is done to preserve the life or health of the woman. This would be morally permissible, not needing Reconciliation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it this way: “Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law” (CCC #2297).

So, we see that a prior hysterectomy does not necessarily prevent a couple from marriage, but they would have to consider cautiously what this would mean to their future together.

Adoption would, of course, be a wonderful possibility for this couple. There are so many unwanted innocent children in the world who are in need of a loving home and parents to care for them. This is indeed a way that a married couple can be open to life and fulfill the law of God for marriage.

© Copyright 2004 Grace D. MacKinnon

For permission to reproduce this article, contact Grace MacKinnon at

Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: You may also visit her online at

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