April 28th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: East Timor election: what's cooking?

EDITORIAL: Implications of East Timor's election

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's character under scrutiny

OVERSEAS TRADE: Wheat-growers back single-desk selling

MANUFACTURING: Japan still shows the way

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Easter and the media / Literacy, and all that / Anzac Day / Jews and Muslims / Pre-Budget ruminations

DAVID HICKS AFFAIR: Media's blind eye to Hicks treason

THE COLD WAR: How Moscow framed Pope Pius XII as pro-Nazi

GREAT BRITAIN: Why Britain is no longer great

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION: Lottery players fleeced for $100 million

ETHICS: New safeguard for vulnerable patients

HEALTH: Married gays die 24 years younger

OBITUARY: Dr John Billings (1918-2007) and the Culture of Life

AS THE WORLD TURNS: The unmarriage revolution / Unexpected outbreak of morality / Mediocrity on the march / Children recruited to spy for Big Brother

Antidotes to narcissism (letter)

Problems with surrogacy (letter)

Politicised public service (letter)

Bell tolls for national icon (letter)

CINEMA: Spartan sacrifice that saved Greece


BOOKS: BACKS TO THE WALL: A larrikin on the Western Front, by G.D. Mitchell with Robert Macklin

Books promotion page

Dr John Billings (1918-2007) and the Culture of Life

by Anna Krohn

News Weekly, April 28, 2007
The life and career of Dr John James Billings - pioneer of “the Billings Method” of natural family planning - are celebrated by Anna Krohn.
Dr John Billings (right)
and Dr Evelyn Billings.

It is noteworthy that Dr John James Billings should pass from this life on April 1, the vigil of the second anniversary of the death of the Pope John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI, in a special blessing and message, described John Billings as “a noble soul”.

In the early 1950s, the future John Paul II (then Fr Karol Wojtyla), the receptive pastor and brilliant academic, found himself drawn to the anthropological and theological depths revealed within the concrete “experiences” of human spousal love. Along the way he was concerned to understand the link between sexuality and fertility.

Wojtyla's struggle to answer Nazism and Marxism drew him to articulate with a Christian voice, the “inalienable” dignity of the human person and human decision-making. This passion and genius would flower during his papacy with his global advocacy of the “Gospel of Life” and his “explosive” catechesis “on human sexuality, embodiment and love” called “the Theology of the Body”.

Marital love

In the same era, far from Poland, in the city of Melbourne, Dr John Billings would be prompted by Archbishop Daniel Mannix, through Fr Maurice Catarinich, to begin a systematic investigation into the physiological markers of human fertility. The team was particularly concerned about how couples could authentically deepen their marital love and make decisions about their family - such a concern bringing Dr Billings and his co-workers into the same counter-cultural and theological currents as the great Pope.

Dr John Billings and his wife Dr Evelyn Billings are the pioneers and the “parent figures” of the particular method of fertility awareness and regulation known around the world simply as “the Billings Method”. In fact, it is hard to imagine a genuinely Australian “export” and “brand” that has saturated the developing world so effectively and with so little monetary exploitation.

The Billings Method, and the education in the method, have expanded and been honed around symptoms which are clearly observable and scientifically measurable.

Studies into the correlation of the female reproductive hormones and the appearance and activity of the cervix and other reproductive organs at different stages of a woman's reproductive life have become very sophisticated within the Billings research community. The results of these studies have been reported in reputable international medical journals, and doctors and allied health professionals are regularly invited to familiarise themselves with the scientific and diagnostic bases of Billings's work.

Dr Evelyn (Lyn) Billings's book The Billings Method has been a runaway bestseller, having been reprinted and re-edited several times in many different languages. In 1986, the Chinese Government was so impressed by the Billings delegation, that there are now over 48,000 Billings-trained teachers providing Chinese women with what is proving to be a popular alternative to the damaging and devastating effects of intra-uterine device (IUD) use and forced abortion.

For many women and families who are in contact with the network of grass-roots teachers in India or Africa, or are suffering from sub-fertility, or are disillusioned with the contraceptive culture or are wanting to follow the ethical principles of their faith or philosophy, Drs John and Evelyn Billings' mission has meant much more than just another contraceptive device or reproductive technology.

In 1998, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado, observed: “And this is why natural family-planning (NFP) differs not merely in style but in moral substance from contraception as a means of regulating family size.

“NFP is not contraception. Rather, it is a method of fertility awareness and appreciation. It is an entirely different approach to regulating birth. NFP does nothing to attack fertility, withhold the gift of oneself from one's spouse, or block the procreative nature of intercourse.”

Perhaps it is because natural family-planning entails a more radical “cultural revolution” than can be ascribed to one particular method, product or market that so many secular news sources and family-planning agencies are somewhat disquieted in their acknowledgement of John Billings's many personal and medical achievements.

For, along with his clinical eye, John Billings always presented his method with the deep philosophical instincts of his faith. The acquisitive, insatiable, individualistic assumptions of much of contemporary culture is challenged by the Billings “culture” with something of John Paul II's reflections on the importance of human procreation and marital love expressed in his call for a Culture of Life.

- obituary written by Anna Krohn, coordinator of the Caroline Chisholm Library and adjunct lecturer at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, Melbourne.

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