After reading the work of bioethicist Wesley Smith, I came across a group of people that suffers from a condition called body integrity identity disorder (or BIID). The disorder occurs when a person thinks his limbs are not his own and wants the healthy limbs to be amputated. This clip from Anderson Cooper’s talk show highlights one woman who is able to walk but chooses to use a wheelchair and has asked doctors to sever her spinal cord. According to her, being a paraplegic is “who she is” and “corrective surgery” would make her truly happy.
You may be tempted to say, “That’s crazy! These people need help!” But be careful lest you be accused of bigotry. After all, with the rise of modern “psychology,” the primary focus in mental health isn’t making sure a person is conforming to the proper function of his human nature. Instead it is, in the words of the American Psychological Association, to “benefit society and improve people’s lives,” which ultimately means just making sure people “feel well.”
Who defines what’s “normal”?
While psychology is the academic study of mental behaviors, psychiatry is the medicinal application of those principles. The primary reference work in psychiatry is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM. The manual has gone through several revisions that mirror changes in cultural attitudes. For example, in 1974 homosexuality was removed from the DSM II as a mental disorder, and in 1994 abortion was removed from the DSM IV as a psychological stressor.
One of the major changes in the forthcoming DSM-V is the removal of gender identity disorder, or the disorder that occurs when a man thinks he is a woman or a woman thinks she is a man. Instead, the term has been replaced by gender dysphoria, or the negative feelings that occur when a person does not accept the gender he (or she?) was assigned at birth. It’s important to note that I dislike the term gender and think it contributes to a false view of human nature—namely, that being male or female is just a social or psychological construct.
Instead of helping the person alter his view of his own sex, the recommended treatment for gender dysphoria is to physically change the person’s anatomy in order to match the sex he thinks he is through “sexual reassignment surgery.”
Even more outlandish, public facilities are moving toward having to accommodate the demands of people with so-called gender dysphoria, or the “transgendered,” lest the facilities’ decision makers risk being labeled “transphobic” and found guilty of a hate crime. For example, a public pool in Washington must allow a “woman” who happens to have male genitalia to have access to locker room facilities where teenage girls change for their local swim team meetings because of local “anti-discrimination laws.”
If gender identity disorder can be renamed gender dysphoria, then why not change body integrity identity disorder to body dysphoria? If “gender” is just a social concept and “men” and “women” do not have a real physical existence, who’s to say the concept of a “healthy” human is not a mere social construct?
If a biological male is convinced he is a woman, and our society placates that desire by providing him “corrective surgery,” then why not let a person who can walk and is convinced she is a paraplegic receive similar “corrective surgery” by severing her spinal cord?
I understand there are conditions such as hermaphroditism or Turner and Klinefelter syndromes where sex determination is not exact. However, cases where determining someone’s sex is difficult do not obviate the vast number of cases where people’s sex is clear and it is their mental states that are disordered with reality.
In order to engage our culture, Catholics must aggressively defend the idea that God exists and has designed the world to be a certain way. If God does not exist, then the concept of “disordered” doesn’t make any sense. Something is “disordered” only when it lacks its proper “order” or design.
Defenders of homosexual behavior consider the Church teaching that homosexuality is “disordered” to be hateful. That is because they evaluate behavior with their own standard: “As long as no one is harmed against his will, then an action is not wrong.” For them, consensual homosexual behavior does not deviate from this standard and so it is not disordered.
Ultimately, God loves people in spite of their disordered desires (sin is not being ordered to the divine will, and we all sin). We must help our culture see why the natural standard of “harmony and design” is better than the secular standard of “perpetual happy feelings” and helps people flourish as sons and daughters of a God who has a unique and awesome plan for our lives.