By Ellen Petersen, The Circuit.
The Benedictine College Student Nurses’ Association hosted a Gender Identity Ethics Panel on Feb. 22.
The panel included Bernadette Maddock RN; psychologists Dr. Mike Moffitt and Dr. Jacque Pfeifer; Dr. Gerard Brungardt, MD; and Dr. John Rziha, Associate Professor of Theology at Benedictine College.
All five speakers identify as Catholic and have had personal experiences with the issue of gender identity as it corresponds to their different fields.
To begin the panel, Natalie Malone, treasurer of BCSNA, said “The intent of this panel is to represent our beliefs. It is to be a discussion as to how we can best approach this sensitive topic as healthcare providers and Catholics alike.”
The panel dealt specifically with the issue of those who identify as transgender, (gender dysphoria) and are seeking to change their sexuality, said Moffitt.
“It is a person’s perception that the sex they identify with may or may not be the same sex they were born with biologically,” he said.
The panel questions addressed this issue from an ethical, social, philosophical and theological standpoint.
On the theology and philosophy of gender identity, Rziha said it is impossible for there to be any truth or credibility to gender dysphoria.
“In Catholic tradition, we teach that the soul is the form and the body is the matter. If we look at things in nature, all things have form and matter. We know that form includes a proper action and that it is the form that orders the matter. In other words, your soul orders your body.
“So your gender isn’t just for your body but also for the depths of your soul- it is who you are,” continued Rziha. “Your soul is specific to your body. Your true self isn’t what you feel in a particular moment but is when you enter into a loving relationship with God. The Catholic position is that we understand there are people hurting with tension between body and soul, but because we recognize the bigger picture, we want to push you further and harder.”
To build upon Rziha’s theological argument, Brungardt pointed out that, in the words of Pope Francis, this issue of gender identity is actually causing a “global war and attack on the family.”
Most of our patients have experienced isolation and failure in relationships, said Pfeifer.
“Then the obsession starts and it becomes hard to work with them because others start feeding into it, encouraging it. We ask things aside from this one obsessive thought but it always go back to the same issue. Why is this person entertaining such an idea? What is going wrong in their life? For them, this is the one thing that will make them happy,” Pfeiffer said.
Brungardt agrees with Pfeiffer in that once the obsession starts, it becomes hard to dissipate and that these people rely on medicine to solve their dissatisfaction.
“Medicine is a following profession not a leading profession,” he said. “To the extent that you go the authority and the authority says ‘you have gender dysphoria’-that legitimates things to the extent that the diagnoses changes and shifts. Medicine is not a leading profession but picks up what is out there and follows and serves that.”
Not only does this issue threaten relationships with others and rely on medical opinion, but the physical and mental affects can be extremely detrimental to the person in question.
“It amazes me that the medical field is allowing this to occur,” Moffitt said. “We have 41 percent of [transgender] individuals who have attempted suicide, if not succeeded. If that were any other area, it would be of great alarm to us. Plus, part of the treatment is hormone therapy. Nowadays, if you are female, doctors are not allowed to prescribe hormones because of the increased risk of cancer, but yet for someone transitioning to the opposite sex, they’ll be taking the hormones for the rest of their life. If you go through the sex reassignment, basically people are mutilating their bodies with no correction surgery.”
Brungardt built upon this argument by adding “To me, the real irony is the that medical issues of these folks are what we (healthcare professionals) are doing to them. They have increased clotting, increased risk of heart disease, increase HIV risk, cancer screening becomes very difficult and they become sterilized for the rest of their lives.”