US Bishops’ Statement on Transgender Health Care Denies Reality, Violates Stated Principles of Catholic Medicine
March 22, 2023. On March 20, 2023, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine released a policy statement on how Catholic medical institutions should treat transgender and nonbinary people. Entitled “Doctrinal Note on the Moral Limits to Technological Manipulation of the Human Body,” the statement instructs Catholic health care facilities not to use hormonal or surgical therapies which have been proven to help address gender dysphoria.
“It is tragic that the US Catholic Bishops are formalizing barriers to transgender and nonbinary people from getting health care needed so they can live full and healthy lives,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA. “This document has far-reaching consequences, since the Catholic Church controls one in six hospital beds in this country. That means a lot of vulnerable people are going to be denied the care they need.
“What is ironic is that I think all Catholics would agree with some of the major assertions in this document,” said Duddy-Burke. She quoted the bishops as saying:
“All who collaborate in Catholic health care ministry must make every effort, using all appropriate means at their disposal, to provide the best medical care, as well as Christ’s compassionate accompaniment, to all patients, no matter who they may be or from what condition they may be suffering."
The bishops add that:
“The mission of Catholic health care services is nothing less than to carry on the healing ministry of Jesus, to provide healing at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual.”
“These principles absolutely should guide the work of Catholic health care providers,” said Duddy-Burke. “However, we disagree with what that means for transgender and nonbinary people seeking care. The vast majority of mainstream health care experts treating members of transgender communities support hormonal and surgical treatments for some transgender and nonbinary people as necessary to addressing their gender dysphoria. They make these decisions after extensive, individualized assessment of a patient’s history and health needs, in consultation with mental health professionals. What is critical here is that, as with general medical practice, the patient’s needs are centered in the treatment process. In the bishops’ document, a factually incorrect definition of biological sex is the starting point, that ignores the very real existence of intersex individuals. They put inflexible dogma over the needs of the individual.”
The statement quotes Pope Francis in denying puberty blockers to young transgender people. “It is problematic for Catholic officials to impose their own ideology on health care for young people suffering from gender dysphoria,” said Duddy-Burke. “Young people, parents, and the community of medical and mental health professionals working with these youth listen carefully and proceed cautiously over periods of months and years before starting any medical intervention. It is clear that this type of intentional listening has not occurred among many leaders of our church, with potentially tragic consequences for these children, who are more than four times more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their cisgender peers,” said Duddy-Burke.
It further quotes Pope Francis on the importance not rejecting God’s gift of the body to accept and care. “This is a misunderstanding of the intent behind gender affirming healthcare.” said Madeline Marlett, leader of the DignityUSA Young Adult Caucus. “The distress caused by gender dysphoria can lead transgender people to self-destructive behaviors, sometimes ending tragically in suicide. For many, myself included, gender affirming healthcare was the only option for preservation of this God given body.” said Marlett.
“It seems clear that this directive’s goal is to impose long-standing and outdated Catholic doctrine on people with critical medical needs, in violation of the very goals our bishops have outlined for Catholic health care,” concluded Duddy-Burke. “We urge a very different approach that begins with listening to and trusting the validity of transgender and nonbinary people’s experiences, as well as the testimony of their families, and the expertise of medical professionals who have overseen the care of these individuals. We believe that such an approach will help make the exceptional Catholic health care providers across our country more capable of supporting all of those they are called to serve.”
DignityUSA is the world’s longest-standing organization of Catholics committed to justice, equality, and full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in our church and the larger society. It has developed a statement of Catholic principles for transgender affirmation, called Beloved by God.