Edited by Ononye VC
NEW YORK – U.S. bishops on March 20 issued new guidance that Catholic health care institutions must not perform gender transition interventions, whether surgical or chemical, on a person regardless of their age.
“Catholic health care services must not perform interventions, whether surgical or chemical, that aim to transform the sexual characteristics of a human body into those of the opposite sex or take part in the development of such procedures,” the March 20 statement reads.
The 14-page statement, signed by the eight members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Doctrinal Committee, which is led by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, states such interventions “do not respect the fundamental order of the human person as an intrinsic unity of body and soul, with a body that is sexually differentiated”.
The bishops note that bodiliness and the sexual difference of the body is a fundamental aspect of human existence. They go on to say a gender transition intervention “harms the human person”.
“The Hippocratic tradition in medicine calls upon all health care providers first and foremost to ‘do no harm’,” the statement explains. “Any technological intervention that does not accord with the fundamental order of the human person as a unity of body and soul, including the sexual difference inscribed in the body, ultimately does not help but, rather, harms the human person.”
The March 20 statement, titled “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body”, was issued to provide a moral criteria to Catholic health care institutions for discerning which medical interventions “promote authentic good of the human person and which are in fact injurious”, according to the USCCB. The bishops noted that the document was developed in consultation with medical ethicists, physicians, psychologists, and moral theologians.
With more than 600 hospitals and 1,600 long-term care and other health facilities across the United States, the Catholic health ministry is the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the nation, according to the most recent data from the Catholic Health Association.
In a statement following the release of the bishops statement, Sister Mary Haddad, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said that “Catholic health care providers will continue to respect the dignity of our transgender patients and provide them with the same quality care we provide to all our patients.”
On March 21, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry—an organization that works to bring together the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ+ community—criticised the bishops for not consulting a trans or nonbinary person in preparing the document.
“The bishops’ unwillingness to counter any of the evidence from the scientific community or the experience of transgender people is neither good theology nor acceptable pastoral care,” DeBernardo said in a statement.
The debate around gender-affirming care in the U.S. has largely centered on whether or not it is acceptable for minors. Utah became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for minors at the end of January. Since, other states have joined in considering or passing legislation restricting the procedures. Meanwhile, other states have taken steps to protect access to care for transgender people.
President Joe Biden, a Catholic, has come out against the restriction of gender-transition procedures for minors. Ahead of a ban in Florida taking effect, Biden said in an interview that the legislation was “close to sinful”, adding that “it’s just terrible what they’re doing”.
The U.S. bishops’ March 20 statement said “particular care should be taken to protect children and adolescents, who are still maturing and who are not capable of providing informed consent”.
The bishops highlight precedent for their statement in the teachings of Pope Francis, Pope Benedict XVI, Saint John Paul II, and Pope Pius XI. They highlight the intrinsic value of the natural body.
“The body is not an object, a mere tool at the disposal of the soul, one that each person may dispose of according to his or her own will, but it is a constitutive part of the human subject, a gift to be received, respected, and care for as something intrinsic to the person,” the statement reads.
There are, however, two instances the statement highlights where technological intervention on the human body is acceptable based on the Catholic Church’s moral tradition: To repair a defect in the body, and when the sacrifice of a part of the body is necessary for the welfare of the whole body.
In the statement, the U.S. bishops say Catholic health care providers must continue to search for solutions to problems of human suffering, but in ways “that truly promote the flourishing of the human person in his or her bodily integrity”.
“As the range of what we can do expands, we must ask what we should or should not do,” the bishops explain. “An indispensable criterion in making such determinations is the fundamental order of the created world. Our use of technology must respect that order.”