Silver Foxes, eating healthy, keeping active all part of our Retirement Living section.
Surgery That Destroys Bodily Integrity
Right after Christmas, the Post had a front-page article about a man who had a "sex change" operation. What moral teaching does the Church give on this subject? A reader in Reston
Before addressing the morality of "sex change" operations or what is more formally termed "sexual reassignment," we need to first call to mind the fundamental moral foundation governing this issue. Each person is a precious human being made in God's image and likeness with both a body and a soul. Vatican II's "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" asserted, "Man, though made of body and soul is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day" (No. 14). St. Paul also reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and therefore we should not degrade our bodily dignity by allowing the body to participate in the act of sin. Moreover, such sin hurts the body of the Church. For this reason, the Church teaches, "Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reason, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law" (Catechism, No. 2297).
Given this foundation, we can address the issue of sexual reassignment, which is a type of reconstructive surgery whereby a male is altered anatomically to resemble a female, or vice versa. Transsexual surgery coupled with hormonal treatment and psychotherapy are used to treat the disorder transsexualism or gender dysphoria syndrome, "a condition in which there is apparent psychological and social identification with attributes of the opposite sex" (Meyer, "Psychiatric Consideration in the Sexual Reassignment of Non-Intersex Individuals" in Clinics in Plastic Surgery, 1974). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published under the auspices of the American Psychiatric Association, lists five symptoms of transsexualism: (1) a sense of discomfort and inappropriateness about one's anatomical sex; (2) a wish to be rid of one's own genitals and to live as a member of the other sex; (3) the disturbance had been continuous (not limited to periods of stress) for at least two years; (4) the absence of physical intersex or genetic abnormality; (5) and the lack of cause due to another mental disorder, such as schizophrenia. Without question, the causes of these symptoms and their diagnosis is extremely complex.
Nevertheless, once a person has made the decision to pursue a sexual reassignment, eventually radical surgery is performed which involves, for a male, castration and the construction of a psuedo-vagina; and for a female, mastectomy and hysterectomy, and the construction of a non-functional pseudo-penis and testes. (Cf. Colin Markland, ATranssexual Surgery" in Obstetrics & Gynecology Annual, 1975.) Obviously, such a procedure involves radical and grotesque mutilation of the body.
No transsexual surgery will ever be able to duplicate completely the anatomy or the functioning of the opposite sex. A male transsexual will never be able to ovulate or conceive; and a female transsexual will never be able to germinate sperm. Transsexuals will need to use synthetic hormones continuously to sustain their change, which in turn runs the risk of cancer.
Another moral consideration is whether the condition of transsexualism justifies surgery. No biological cause of transsexualism has been identified. Rather, the cause appears to stem from psychological development, and thereby transsexualism should be treated with psychotherapy. Interestingly, even after surgery, transsexuals need at least some psychotherapeutic support.
Finally, a transsexual will never be able to enter validly into the Sacrament of Matrimony. A man who undergoes sexual reassignment will never really be a woman, or vice versa; rather, a man will be a man (or vice versa), except with a mutilated body and profound psychological disordering. Moreover, a transsexual will never be able to consummate the marriage in the fullest expression of love of husband and wife, and never will there be a real openness to life and the creation of children.
To destroy organs purposefully that are healthy and functioning, and to try to create imitation organs which will never have the genuineness and functioning of authentic organs is gross and lacks charity. Such surgery which purposefully destroys the bodily integrity of the person must be condemned.
Nevertheless, individuals suffering from gender dysphoria syndrome must be treated with compassion. They should be encouraged to pursue proper psychotherapy which will help them to face realistically their human situation and the world, and the consequences of their actions on themselves and their relationships with family and friends. Moreover, they need pastoral counseling which will help them realize the great love of God who loves them as individuals who have been created in His image and likeness. Such counseling will also direct them to spiritual, intellectual and social pursuits to realize their self-worth and divert their preoccupation with sexual identity.
Fr. Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College in Alexandria and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls.
Copyright ?2001 Arlington Catholic Herald. All rights reserved.