Bishop in U.K. Applauds Court Decision Limiting Treatments for Transgender Children

Bishop Philip Egan

Senior Catholic officials in the United Kingdom have applauded a ruling from the nation’s highest court that says certain transgender children lack the legal competency to consent to medical treatments administered by a gender identity clinic. The response from the Catholic leaders diverges from previous inclusive viewpoints related to the LGBTQ community.

According to The Catholic Register, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled in Bell v. Tavistock that the use of puberty blockers administered by the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), a clinic for children under 16 years of age, are prohibited unless a court determines that such medication interventions are in the “best interests” of the child.

GIDS is a world-renowned speciality clinic for children experiencing psychological and emotional distress related to their gender identity. The Tavistock and Portman NHS (National Health Service) Foundation Trust manages GIDS, which was sued by Kiera Bell, a former patient.

The high court also opined that a separate court adjudication should be obtained for patients up to 17 years of age to ensure that they are fully aware of the ramifications of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) as well as gender-confirming surgeries.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth called the high court’s ruling “a ray of common sense.” He expanded further:

“‘As Christians, we believe that God creates people as male and female,’ he said in a Dec. 4 statement sent by email to Catholic News Service. ‘This is why gender dysphoria is a condition that needs to be addressed first and foremost by spiritual and psychological therapies, with real love and emotional support for the individual concerned, rather than leaping to surgical and hormonal interventions.’” . . .

“‘The primary aim of therapy should not be to help people physically change their sex, but to assure them that they are loving and loveable human beings and to help them find their true identity.’”

The bishop’s response was echoed by Dr. Dermot Kearney, president of the Catholic Medical Association:

“‘People with gender dysphoria need understanding and help…There is no evidence, however, that interventions that reinforce or affirm a preferred gender rather than the gender genetically and biologically determined are helpful or indeed safe.'”

Bondings 2.0 has previously reported on the Catholic Church in England and Wales’ generally inclusive and affirming viewpoint on LGBTQ issues, though the Scottish bishops have acted somewhat differently. The English and Welsh bishops published a robust guide for educators to address the problem of LGBTQ bullying. Numerous dioceses have facilitated welcome Masses for the LGBT community, and the Westminster Diocese in London implemented an LGBT outreach program back in 2015. Msgr. Keith Barltrop, the head of LGBT ministry for that diocese, has also underscored that the church should pastorally embrace transgender people through their transition process.

In contrast, however, Bishop Egan’s response to Bell v. Tavistock disparages the scientifically-proven efficacy of puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender-confirming surgeries for transgender people, some of whom experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria, the feeling of discomfort or distress that a person may associate with living as the gender that the person was assigned at birth, can lead to a myriad of negative consequences, including suicide, if left untreated.

Moreover, reinforcing a myopic understanding of gender expression via the male/female binary diminishes the psychological and spiritual space for transgender children to grow into their identities, and to know that they are loved by God.

Nancy Kelley, chief executive of Stonewall, the U.K.’s largest LGBT organization, criticized the high court’s ruling and issued the following statement:

“Today’s Court ruling about the prescription of puberty blockers is both deeply concerning and shocking. We’re worried this judgment will have a significant chilling effect on young trans people’s ability to access timely medical support.”

The voices of trans youth who have been patiently waiting to access the various medical treatments administered by GIDS were captured in an interview, as reported by PinkNews. One youth, Amber, a patient of GIDS, said:

“‘It is incredibly unnecessary, distressing and dehumanising to subject me to wait another year because they do not think I am ‘trans’ enough.’ . . .

“‘Simply saying ‘I am trans, I have felt dysphoria for seven years’ should have been enough. Suffering through the wait list queue should have been enough. Waiting a year while they diagnosed me with monthly appointments including calls on the telephone should have been enough.’”

If the U.K.’s Catholic Church hopes to  embrace transgender persons pastorally on their journey of discovery, the church’s policy statements should be informed by all parties, including the parents of transgender children, as well as the scientific research of medical experts and psychologists who specialize in gender identity development.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, December 16, 2020

3 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    These are very tough situations and decisions to adjudicate. When a person reaches the age of 21, that person should have the sovereign legal right to adjudicate and authorize any adjustments (surgical or otherwise) that they wish to make to their physical body. Once you’re 21, your parents should have no control over the disposition of your body. Does this “freedom to choose” at age 21 extend even to the personal choice to invoke physician-assisted suicide, which is legal at least in certain jurisdictions? These are tough and disturbing questions to ponder. I’d like to hear the opinions of our always thoughtful readers.

    Reply
  2. Ann Connolly
    Ann Connolly says:

    This is a sad commentary! The Catholic bishops need to update their understanding of the science and psychology behind gender dysphoria. This is not a “passing fancy” or a whimsical desire to try out a new gender! This is a legitimate — challenging — condition that requires support (and, yes, sometimes medical intervention). Decisions regarding treatment options should be managed by a child’s physician with thorough consultation with the parents and the child him/herself! This is not an issue of morality, but one of health (mental and physical).

    Reply
  3. Martin Pendergast
    Martin Pendergast says:

    It might just be helpful to give a context for the comments of Bishop Egan and the Catholic Medical Association President. Firstly, the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom is divided into 3 separate Bishops’ Conferences: England & Wales, Scotland, with Northern Ireland being part of the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference. Bishop Egan is one of the, thankfully few, most conservative members of the Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales. As a member of the Conference’s Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis he has no particular responsibilities in the field of Social Responsibility or Bio-ethics.
    The Catholic Medical Association is also a generally conservative, private organisation, having no official status within the Bishops’ Conference structures. It has close links with another conservative group, the Catholic Union.
    Their comments conflict with the current pastoral line of the Bishops of England & Wales who appointed the bioethics Professor David A. Jones to lead a ‘listening process’ with trans Catholics. He has published a number of articles in the London-based Tablet magazine: https://www.thetablet.co.uk/features/2/16194/gender-theory-and-gender-reality
    + https://www.thetablet.co.uk/features/2/15732/transgender-one-more-way-to-be-human.

    In April 2018, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales stated: “Today there is intense public debate about gender. It highlights not only the suffering and discomfort of some, but also raises profound questions about human nature, how we understand ourselves, relate to one another and our capacity for self-determination. We recognise that there are people who do not accept their biological sex. We are concerned about and committed to their pastoral care. Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasising that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church.”
    LGBT+ Catholics Westminster issued this response: The LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council welcomes the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales’ resolution to understand and accompany transgender people. Many transgender people face prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives, as well as great mental and emotional distress due to the disconnect between their gender identities and their physical bodies, often exacerbated by rejection from their families and communities. As transgender issues have become more visible over the past few years, there has been a backlash against transgender people, leading to increased violence and hatred. This is therefore an ideal time for the Catholic Church to affirm the inherent God-given dignity of some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society, and reach out to them with love and welcome. We would like to take this opportunity to address some common misconceptions about transgender people. Transgender identity is not an ideological position, nor do transgender people seek to convert others to being transgender. Being transgender does not mean that someone wishes to abolish gender or sexual difference; in fact many transgender people report feeling great joy and peace once their bodies and gender identities are aligned. The argument that gender is purely a social construct is often used to delegitimize, rather than support, transgender identities. Gender is not a matter of individual choice for transgender people any more than it is for cisgender (i.e. not transgender) people. Although it is currently not known why some people are transgender, current research suggests that genetics, hormones and environment all
    play a role. In the United Kingdom, the process of transitioning from one gender to another takes place over a long period of time, typically years, and is a multi-stage process. This process may include both reversible changes, such as using a different name and pronouns, or changing hair style and clothing, and more permanent changes such as hormone therapy and surgery. Medical interventions which have irreversible, life altering effects are only provided under the guidance and supervision of specialist psychiatrists, endocrinologists and surgeons. In the case of young people this process is especially gradual, as it is recognised that not all children who display gender variant behaviour identify as transgender later in life. The NHS provides a Gender Identity Development Service to support young people who have difficulties with their gender identity and also their families. We are pleased that the Bishops are committed to continued reflection on this matter, and we hope that they will take the opportunity to listen to the stories, hopes and fears of their transgender siblings in Christ, as well engaging with clinicians and researchers. We would also like to commend the many clergy, religious, and lay members of the Church who already welcome transgender people into their parishes and communities, and we hope their experiences can be used as examples to help others.”
    The Bishops’ Conference also issued this ‘call to prayer’ for Trans Memorial Day, November 2018: https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/11066/church-committed-to-care-of-trans-people

    Reply

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