WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) published an instruction forbidding so-called “gender transition” surgeries and drugs as contrary to the natural order inherent in the human body and intended by God as Creator.
The document, titled, “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” was written by the bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, chaired by Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. The text was published March 20 and, while directed especially to Catholic medical institutions, lays out the principles of a Catholic approach to the issue in a way that is instructive for all the faithful.
The bishops condemned transgender ideology as a modern version of dualism that rejects the human body as a constitutive part of the human person. The bishops stated that such ideology, which maintains that a person can be born in the “wrong kind of body” and can “change” his or her body into that of the opposite sex, fails to see the inherent unity of body and soul as well as the natural order of the sexually distinct male and female body.
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God has placed a natural order within creation
The bishops begin by pointing to the Christian understanding of the order placed by God within nature itself. They wrote, “A fundamental tenet of the Christian faith is that there is an order in the natural world that was designed by its Creator and that this created order is good (Gen 1:31; Ps 19:1ff.). The Church has always affirmed the essential goodness of the natural order and called on us to respect it.”
Within that natural order and at the pinnacle of it stands human nature, itself endowed by God with an intrinsic order, the bishops affirmed.
What is true of creation as a whole is true of human nature in particular: there is an order in human nature that we are called to respect. In fact, human nature deserves utmost respect since humanity occupies a singular place in the created order, being created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). To find fulfillment as human persons, to find true happiness, we must respect that order. We did not create human nature; it is a gift from a loving Creator. Nor do we “own” our human nature, as if it were something that we are free to make use of in any way we please. Thus, genuine respect for human dignity requires that decisions about the use of technology be guided by genuine respect for this created order.
The Church rejects dualism that denies that the body is a constitutive part of the human person
The bishops went on to delineate that part of the natural order is the fact that the human person is composed of both body and soul. The body is a constitutive part of the human person, they explained, not a separate nature or accessory or mere instrument of the soul, to be used or re-fashioned at will. The Church has always rejected dualistic concepts of human nature that do not acknowledge that the body is an intrinsic constitutive part of the person, the bishops insisted. This means, they said, “a soul can never be in another body, much less be in the wrong body,” a mantra often repeated by transgender advocates who claim those who identify differently from their biological sex were simply born on the wrong type of body.
Expounding the Catholic understanding of the unity of body and soul, the bishops wrote:
A crucial aspect of the order of nature created by God is the body-soul unity of each human person. Throughout her history, the Church has opposed dualistic conceptions of the human person that do not regard the body as an intrinsic part of the human person, as if the soul were essentially complete in itself and the body were merely an instrument used by the soul. In opposition to dualisms both ancient and modern, the Church has always maintained that, while there is a distinction between the soul and the body, both are constitutive of what it means to be human, since spirit and matter, in human beings, “are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.” The soul does not come into existence on its own and somehow happen to be in this body, as if it could just as well be in a different body. A soul can never be in another body, much less be in the wrong body. This soul only comes into existence together with this body. What it means to be a human person necessarily includes bodiliness. “Human beings are physical beings sharing a world with other physical beings.”
Sexual difference is part of the natural order of the human body
The bishops then went on to defend the sexual differentiation and complementarity of male and female as fundamental to the natural order found in the human body. They wrote:
Human bodiliness is, in turn, intrinsically connected with human sexual differentiation. Just as every human person necessarily has a body, so also human bodies, like those of other mammals, are sexually differentiated as male or female: “Male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).8 Saint John Paul II reminded us that, in the Book of Genesis, we learn that “Man is created ‘from the very beginning’ as male and female: the life of all humanity — whether of small communities or of society as a whole — is marked by this primordial duality.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. ‘Being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God.”
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Medical interventions must respect the order and finality of the human body
The bishops then turned to the teaching of Pius XII on the principles by which to judge the moral legitimacy of medical interventions that touch upon the natural order of the human body, such as surgeries, amputations, or genetic alterations. Such medical interventions, they declared, must respect the order and finality of the human body.
“The human person, body and soul, man or woman, has a fundamental order and finality whose integrity must be respected. Because of this order and finality, neither patients nor physicians nor researchers nor any other persons have unlimited rights over the body; they must respect the order and finality inscribed in the embodied person,” the bishops wrote.
They then laid out the two kinds of technological medical interventions that are morally justified, and the conditions which Pius XII taught must be met for such interventions to be morally acceptable.
There are essentially two scenarios recognized by the Church’s moral tradition in which technological interventions on the human body may be morally justified:
1) when such interventions aim to repair a defect in the body;
2) when the sacrifice of a part of the body is necessary for the welfare of the whole body.
The bishops pointed out that while “these kinds of technological interventions respect the fundamental order and finality inherent in the human person … there are other technological interventions that aim neither to repair some defect in the body nor to sacrifice a part for the sake of the whole but, rather, aim to alter the fundamental order of the body.” “Such interventions do not respect the order and finality inscribed in the human person,” they declared.
Giving the three conditions that Pope Pius XII stipulated must be fulfilled for a medical intervention “that involves anatomical or functional mutilation” to be morally permissible, the bishops said:
First, the retention or functioning of a particular organ in the organism as a whole causes serious damage to it or constitutes a threat.
Second, this damage cannot be avoided, or at least appreciably diminished, otherwise than by the mutilation in question and the effectiveness of the mutilation is well assured.
Finally, it can reasonably be expected that the negative effect, i.e., the mutilation and its consequences, will be compensated for by the positive effect: removal of the danger for the whole organism, lessening of suffering, etc.
These conditions ensure proper respect for the fundamental order of the human person in that they establish that the sacrifice of the part of the body is not itself what is sought, that this is truly a last resort that is necessary for the welfare of the body, there being no other options for securing the welfare of the body as a whole.
Technological replacement of the natural order is not morally acceptable
Taking these principles, the bishops then applied them to the cases of non-therapeutic “genetic engineering” and the so-called “gender transitioning” surgeries and drugs, all of which they condemned as morally impermissible, intended to replace rather than respect the natural order.
While the foregoing two types of technological interventions take the basic order of the human person as a given and do not intend to alter it, there is another type of intervention that regards this order as unsatisfactory in some way and proposes a more desirable order, a redesigned order.
Genetic engineering “for purposes other than medical treatment” is not morally permissible. Here the intention is to replace the natural order with what is imagined to be a new and better order. The Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith] warns that “in the attempt to create a new type of human being one can recognize an ideological element in which man tries to take the place of his Creator.” In a similar way, some proposals for “cybernetic enhancement” also aim to redesign the fundamental order of the human being and to produce a new type of human being by replacing some or all bodily organs with artificial devices.
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Mutilation and drugs for the sake of ‘changing’ one’s sex is not morally acceptable
The bishops then denounced the wide practice and range of “technical interventions” proposed as “treatments” for so-called “gender dysphoria” or “gender incongruence” that “involve the use of surgical or chemical techniques that aim to exchange the sex characteristics of a patient’s body for those of the opposite sex or for simulations thereof,” and which “in the case of children … is prepared [for] by the administration of chemical puberty blockers, which arrest the natural course of puberty and prevent the development of some sex characteristics in the first place.”
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In no uncertain terms, the bishops condemned all such transgender procedures, declaring, “These technological interventions are not morally justified either as attempts to repair a defect in the body or as attempts to sacrifice a part of the body for the sake of the whole.”
Defending the condemnation, the bishops argued:
First, they do not repair a defect in the body: there is no disorder in the body that needs to be addressed; the bodily organs are normal and healthy. Second, the interventions do not sacrifice one part of the body for the good of the whole. When a part of the body is legitimately sacrificed for the sake of the whole body, whether by the entire removal or substantial reconfiguration of a bodily organ, the removal or reconfiguring of the bodily organ is reluctantly tolerated as the only way to address a serious threat to the body. Here, by contrast, the removal or reconfiguring is itself the desired result.
Instead, rather than to repair some defect in the body or to sacrifice a part for the sake of the whole, these interventions are intended to transform the body so as to make it take on as much as possible the form of the opposite sex, contrary to the natural form of the body. They are attempts to alter the fundamental order and finality of the body and to replace it with something else.
These interventions differ in the magnitude of the changes brought about in the body. They are alike, however, in that they all have the same basic purpose: that of transforming sex characteristics of the body into those of the opposite sex.
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In accord with the condemnation of such procedures, the bishops instructed Catholic healthcare institutions and services to refrain from any and all gender-transitioning interventions, “whether surgical or chemical,” which they declared ultimately harm the human person. They wrote:
Such interventions, thus, 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. Bodiliness is a fundamental aspect of human existence, and so is the sexual differentiation of the body. 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. They must employ all appropriate resources to mitigate the suffering of those who struggle with gender incongruence, but the means used must respect the fundamental order of the human body.
The Hippocratic tradition in medicine calls upon all healthcare providers first and foremost to “do no harm.” 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.
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