Peter Saunders

What causes homosexuality, Peter Tatchell? It depends on which view is most politically convenient

Peter Saunders
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Last week in Parliament I attended a meeting where four leading figures engaged in a lively debate on therapy for those with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction. 

The debate focussed on the legitimacy of, and freedom to offer, ‘change therapy’ (more accurately SOCEs - sexual orientation change efforts), which is aimed at altering the strength and direction of sexual feelings. 

Dr Michael Davidson of CORE Issues (who is about to undergo a disciplinary procedure for using it) and Canadian psychiatrist Dr Joseph Berger (who uses it regularly) were supporting change therapy. 

Psychiatrist Professor Michael King (who is its most vehement critic) and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell were against it.

Although members of the mainstream press were present the debate has so far been reported only by Christian ConcernPink News and Gay Star News

Tatchell and King essentially argued that homosexual orientation was biologically caused and fixed, that change was impossible and that change therapies were damaging and unethical. 

I will come back to King in another blog but I was particularly intrigued by the hard line position taken by Tatchell. 

Tatchell (pictured) summed up his position on the causes of homosexuality by dismissing cultural and environmental factors: ‘The overwhelming mass of scientific and medical evidence shows that homosexual orientation is the product of inheritance and hormonal influences in the womb.’

King, the scientist, wasn’t anywhere as dogmatic about this and suggested that no one really knew the cause. Tatchell, however, firmly stood his ground.

To those who are acquainted with Tatchell’s writings this announcement marked a huge departure from his previous stance. Rather than accept the view that people are born gay, he has actually been one of its chief opponents. 

On his own website in an article titled ‘Born or Made Gay?’ he argues as follows:

‘Something as complex and pivotal as human emotional and sexual life is bound to evolve from a multiplicity of factors, rather than from any single, simple origin… biological determinist models of gayness suggest that same-sex attraction is largely or entirely determined by our genes and hormonal influences in the womb. It is an innate desire, fixed at birth….

This was the central thesis of the recent book, Born Gay, by Glenn Wilson, a Reader at the Institute of Psychiatry in London , and Qazi Rahman, a lecturer in psychobiology at the University of East London . Their book is easily the best summary of evidence from dozens of biological studies into the causes and correlates of homosexuality.

They conclude that sexual orientation is overwhelmingly innate. Social or family influences have little or no impact. Blaming parents and childhood upbringing for a child's gayness is mistaken and unfair. The idea that people become gay by seduction or choice is, they say, not supported by scientific research and empirical evidence…

The authors are right to say that biological factors play a role. Studies of identical twin brothers show that in 52% of cases where one twin is gay the other twin is also gay (Note - later studies suggest this figure is closer to 20%). This is a much higher concordance than the 2% to 10% distribution of gay people in the general population, as recorded by various sex surveys. It suggests a significant genetic component in the causality of homosexuality - and, presumably, in the origins of heterosexuality as well.

Wilson and Rahman argue the other determinant of sexual orientation is hormonal exposure during pregnancy. They document studies showing differences between gay and straight people with respect to a number of physiological traits that are associated with hormonal influences...

This is convincing stuff, but not entirely so. If genes determine our sexual orientation we would expect that in cases of identical twins where one was gay the other would be gay too – in every case. But, in fact, in only just over half the cases are both twins gay. The same lack of complete concordance is found in hormone-associated physical attributes. 

These exceptions lead me to conclude that while genes and hormones may, like male birth order, predispose a person to a particular sexual orientation, they do not determine it. They are significant influences, not the sole cause. Other factors are also at work. Social expectations, cultural values and peer pressure, for instance, help push many of us towards heterosexuality...

Wilson's and Rahman's biological determinist thesis has another major flaw. If we are all born either gay or straight, how do they explain people who switch in mid-life from fulfilled heterosexuality to fulfilled homosexuality (and vice versa)?

The authors have no credible explanation for bisexuality; claiming it barely exists… Much as I would love to go along with the fashionable ‘born gay' consensus (it would be very politically convenient), I can't. The evidence does not support the idea that sexuality is a fixed biological given.’

In another article on his website he takes an even stronger position:

‘Sexual orientation is largely or entirely determined by our genes and hormonal influences in the womb. It is an innate given, fixed at birth. Forget Freudian theory and all the other psycho babble. Biology is destiny.

This is the central thesis of Born Gay. I disagree…. If sexuality was predetermined at birth by genes and hormones, it would be impossible for young Sambian males to switch to homosexuality and then back to heterosexuality with such apparent ease. This suggests there is an element of flexibility in sexual orientation, and that cultural traditions and social mores are also influential factors. 

Born gay? No. Human sexuality is too varied and complex to be reduced to a simple equation of genes plus hormones.’ 

When asked at the debate whether his views had changed Tatchell said that they had. When asked why, he said it was a result of reading ‘Born gay?’ 

But ‘Born gay?’ was written in 2008 and yet just last year in January 2012 Tatchell wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled ‘Future Sex: Beyond Gay and straight’ in which he takes exactly the same position as that expressed on his website: 

‘We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.

It is also apparent that same-sex relations flourish, albeit often temporarily, in single-sex institutions like schools, prisons and the armed forces - which suggests that sexuality might be more flexible than many people assume.

(Kinsey) found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings - even if they do not act on them…

…The evidence from these two research disciplines - sociology and anthropology - is that the incidence and form of heterosexuality and homosexuality is not fixed and universal, and that the two sexual orientations are not mutually exclusive. There is a good deal of fluidity and overlap.

What's more, although scientific evidence shows that human sexuality is significantly affected by biological predispositions - such as genes and hormones - other influences appear to be cultural, including social expectations, peer pressure and the availability and opportunity for sexual release. These influences channel erotic impulses in certain directions and not others. An individual's sexual orientation is thus influenced culturally, as well as biologically.

… This picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero and homo, so loved by straight moralists and - equally significantly - by many lesbians and gay men.

If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality.

… Gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression. They are a self-defence mechanism against homophobia. Faced with persecution for having same-sex relations, the right to have those relationships has to be defended - hence gay identity and the gay rights movement.’

So what exactly is Tatchell's position? 

Does he really expect us to believe that in the last twelve months he has suddenly adopted the central thesis of a book he has consistently rejected for over four years? 

If so why has he not said so up until this week?

Or is there another explanation altogether? Does Tatchell actually choose which view to hold depending on who he is talking to? 

Tatchell is at very heart a campaigner and has already hinted above that the ‘fashionable “born gay” consensus’ would be ‘very politically convenient’ for him. 

So maybe when he is arguing, as in Huffington Post, that in the future there will be no such thing as gay and straight but just fluidity, it is actually politically convenient to say that the main cause of sexual orientation is cultural and environmental. 

But when he is making a case for disciplining people who are practising therapy aimed at changing the strength and direction of sexual attraction, it is more politically convenient for him to argue that sexual orientation is biologically fixed at birth as a result of genes and hormones. 

And if he is trying to establish that gay people are a persecuted minority (very useful if you are pushing for a change in the law) then it is expedient to argue that gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression. 

I wonder which argument Peter Tatchell will use next? 

I guess it will depend on who is listening and what his political agenda at the time happens to be.

Reprinted with permission from Christian Medical Comment.

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Therapists to offer sex change drugs to nine-year-olds

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders
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Children as young as nine are to be prescribed drugs which delay the onset of puberty as the first step towards a sex change operation (Mail on Sunday and Daily Telegraph).

Doctors at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said a trial of the treatment on ‘gender dysphoria’ patients aged 12 to 14 had been successful and it could now be offered even earlier.

Monthly injections of the drugs, known as hypothalamic blockers, are used to slow the development of the children’s sexual organs by blocking the production of the hormones testosterone and oestrogen.

The rationale is that by delaying the onset of sexual maturation this gives more time for gender conflicted youngsters to decide whether they wish to embark on hormone treatment and surgery aimed at changing their gender. 

Most people will be shocked at this news but it is actually a logical consequence of accepting four prior ideological presuppositions – that gender is a social construct, that personal autonomy should trump other considerations, that emotional suffering should be avoided at all costs and that technology should be used to achieve these ends. 

There are obvious safety concerns - although the gender treatment is reversible, the long-term effects on brain development, bone growth and fertility have not yet been fully evaluated.

But safety considerations aside, using hormones to suppress puberty in transgender children is highly controversial, not least because of deep societal disagreements about the causes and nature of transsexuality and the effectiveness and appropriateness of transgender therapies per se.  This means that therapists remain strongly divided about the best way of handling the issue.

Transgender people are born with the anatomy and physiology of one sex but believe that they belong to the opposite sex.  Should therapy therefore be aimed at changing bodies (using hormones and surgery) to match a person’s beliefs or should it rather be aimed at helping people to adjust mentally to accepting the bodies they were born with? Even more fundamentally, is ‘gender dsyphoria’ a mental disorder or is it just a normal variant like eye or skin colour?

Up until recently ‘gender identity disorder’ was classified as a mental disorder (in the Psychiatric diagnostic inventory DSM-IV) but it has now been reclassified and renamed ‘gender dysphoria’ (in the DSM-V).  This change was strongly ideologically driven and many psychologists and psychiatrists dispute the reclassification. They still see ‘gender identity disorder’ as a kind of body dysphoria, whereby a person has an unshakeable false belief that they are one sex when in fact they are the other. It has been likened to anorexia nervosa, where the affected individual is convinced she is fat whilst being grossly underweight.

Those who supported the reclassification however, take the view that gender identity is biologically fixed and determined and that it is harmful to affected individuals to deny them sex change therapy or to 'force' them to live with the body they were born with. Some even hold to the strongly postmodern view that gender, regardless of what one’s genes or hormones suggest, is simply a social construct, even a matter of choice. If you wish to appreciate how passionately these views are held, then try expressing a traditional understanding on twitter using the hashtag #lgbt!  

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Is gender identity fixed as male or female or is it more of a spectrum or continuum? Can it change over time? How effective is therapy in changing the strength and orientation of one’s beliefs? How might suppression of puberty using hormonal treatment affect bone, brain and sexual development?

Research is still at an early stage with many of these questions and strong ideological convictions one way or the other mean that scientific objectivity about the real effects of sex change therapy may always be a matter of contention.  It is perhaps not surprising that both opinion and research in this whole area is often driven by powerful ideological vested interests.

Complicating this is the fact that gender identity may change in an individual over time, and that it may be very difficult to predict the outcome of for any particular person. Some children are much more appropriately described as ‘gender nonconforming’ or ‘gender-fluid’ rather than transgender. In many others gender identity may change with time.

Toronto specialist Ken Zucker, who opposes the use of sex change therapies, claims that only about 12% of boys and girls with gender dysphoria will still have persistent dysphoria as adults. This fact alone should lead even the most committed supporters of early intervention to err strongly on the side of caution.

The CMF File ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ goes into the issue in more detail and also looks at biblical principles which can be applied.

The Bible teaches that human beings are created in God's image and of two sexes – male and female (Genesis 1:27). Jesus drew on this when he commented, 'haven't you read, that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5).

The Old Testament command 'you shall not commit adultery' also indicates that sexual intercourse should only occur within the framework of marriage (Exodus 20:14). Sex outside the marriage bond is wrong, whether with someone of the same or opposite sex (Leviticus 18:22, 20:10).

The ideal pattern for existence was spoilt at the Fall when mankind rebelled against God's rules. One consequence of this is that moral values, sexual patterns and also biology (genes and hormones) have become distorted.

The good news at the centre of Christianity is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, gives people new life and power to change. On top of this, there will be a time in the future when all rebellion against God's plans will come to an end and a perfect relationship with God can be fully restored. This brings the hope that transsexual people may find support as they seek to live in ways that are honest to the way God made them, and open to God's ideals.

It's worth noting that the Bible regards celibacy as a high calling. Jesus was fully human and male, but never married nor had sexual intercourse. He also taught that marriage is not for everyone (Matthew 19:12).  It is important to acknowledge this, as for some people, battling with gender conflict may be a life long process.

Reprinted with permission from PJ Saunders

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Why assisted suicide should not be legalised in Britain

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders
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I have recently been published in a head to head with Sir Terence English in the Oxford Mail on whether assisted suicide should be legalised in Britain. My contribution to the debate is reproduced below. Perhaps not surprisingly I have said ‘no’.

Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would inevitably place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others.
 
The ‘right to die’ would so easily become the ‘duty to die’. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed and would be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure.
 
Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions are already real and dangerous and would be made worse.
 
Any so-called ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, will not work.
 
This is because exactly the same arguments – autonomy and compassion – would apply to people outside the categories decided upon and so any law allowing it for some would immediately be challenged under equality legislation.
 
If for terminally ill people, why not for those who have chronic illnesses but are ‘suffering unbearably’?
 
If for adults why not for ‘Gillick competent’ children? If for the mentally competent why not for people with dementia who ‘would have wanted it’?
 
The news coming from other jurisdictions which have gone down this route, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands, shows a pattern of incremental extension and pushing of the boundaries – an increase in cases year on year, a widening of categories of people to be included and people being killed without their consent.
 
Belgium has recently legalised euthanasia for children and in the Netherlands babies with spina bifida and people with dementia are already put to death.
 
This is why British parliaments have rightly rejected the legalisation of assisted suicide in Britain three times in the last seven years and why the vast majority of UK doctors, almost all medical groups including the British Medication Association (BMA), Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and all major disabled people’s advocacy groups are also opposed.
 
Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for, so our real priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.
 
This issue is understandably an emotive one but hard cases make bad law and even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom. Our present law with its blanket prohibition on all medical killing does not need changing.
 
The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy.
 
Reprinted with permission from PJ Saunders

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Royal College of Ob/Gyn bars pro-life doctors from receiving its degrees and diplomas

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders
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Doctors and nurses who have a moral objection to prescribing ‘contraceptives’ which act by killing human embryos are to be barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertake the necessary training according to new guidelines.

Under new rules issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) earlier this year these doctors and nurses are also to be barred from membership of the faculty and from specialty training.

The FSRH is a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists established on the 26th March 1993 as the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. In 2007 it changed its name to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.

Whilst many contraceptives act by preventing the union of sperm and egg, some, including most IUCDs (intrauterine contraceptive devices) and the morning-after pill EllaOne (ulipristal acetate), also act by preventing the implantation of an early embryo. In other words they are embryocidal or abortifacient, rather than truly contra-ceptive.

Many doctors, of all faiths and none, have a moral objection to destroying human life and wish therefore to avoid using drugs or methods which act after fertilisation.

In fact this position was once held by the British Medical Association (BMA) when it adopted the Declaration of Geneva in 1948. This states, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception even against threat’.

But in 1983 the words ‘from the time of conception’ were amended to ‘from its beginning’ due to sensitivities about increasing medical involvement in abortion. The word 'beginning' was left undefined, giving doctors the opportunity to argue, contrary to the biological reality, that early human life was not actually human life at all.

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Now it seems that doctors who wish to abide by the original wording of the Declaration of Geneva are to be barred from practising in certain medical specialties. This is an extraordinary about face.

The Faculty may argue that they are not barring doctors and nurses from practising, but simply from obtaining certain qualifications. But as many job appointments will be conditional on applicants having these qualifications this is effectively also a bar on practice.

Interestingly doctors who have a moral objection to abortion are still able to complete the Faculty’s qualifications because the Abortion Act 1967 contains a conscience clause which protects them. But there is no law protecting those who object to destroying human embryos.

Many Christians believe that every human life, regardless of age, sex, race, degree of disability or any other biological characteristic, is worthy of the utmost respect, wonder, empathy and protection.

This is based on the idea, taught in the Bible, that human beings are made in the image of God. In a society which is becoming more hostile to Christian faith and values it is perhaps not surprising that we are seeing institutional discrimination of this kind.

Perhaps it is time for Christian doctors and nurses, and others who share their prolife views, to set up an alternative training programme.

Reprinted with permission from PJ Saunders

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