In a strongly worded response to the Scottish Government's consultation on its Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, Scotland's eight Catholic Bishops have unanimously opposed the proposed legislation. Following a meeting of the Bishops' Conference, they released the following statement:
"Together with a growing number of voices in society, the Church believes that sex or gender cannot be reduced to a mere construct of society that is fluid and changeable. Denying the biological reality of sexual difference and redefining something as fundamental as male and female is not within the purview of government or parliamentarians. Like marriage, it is part of the natural law: an unchanging principle of human existence."
"Sex is constituted by biological organisation and reproductive functioning, and is recognised at birth, not assigned, government should not proceed with radical legal reforms or expose children to radical treatments. Caution and sensitivity is required."
The bishops also point out that:
"Gender dysphoria is a condition that can cause significant distress and anxiety. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, of the American Psychiatric Association continues to recognise gender dysphoria as a genuine, troubling medical condition. By de-medicalising legal transition and moving to a self-declaratory model, as proposed in the consultation, society may fail to provide the necessary support for those affected by gender dysphoria in the form of contact with health professionals. De-medicalisation removes a vital protection and safeguard for vulnerable individuals, exacerbated by the proposal to reduce the time a person is required to live in their acquired gender from two years to just three months. By supporting these changes, the Scottish Government risks failing vulnerable people. "
The church's consultation response points out that since the Scottish Prison Service issued guidance effectively allowing self-identification, the number of prisoners identifying as transgender has risen significantly, to the point where the incidence rate of men identifying as women is 350 times higher amongst the prison population than it is in the general population.
The bishops conclude by saying:
"The proposed changes risk creating medical, social and legal complications which will be difficult to resolve and damaging to those involved, particularly children and women. Accordingly, we have written to the First Minister, highlighting our concerns and urging her to not to proceed with the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill."
The following letter has been sent to the First Minister:
Dear First Minister,
Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill
Our thoughts are with you and those in Government at this difficult and uncertain time for us all. We appreciate the guidance being given.
However, it is on another matter that I write.
On behalf of the Bishops Conference of Scotland - which has made its own submission to the Consultation - I wish to express serious misgivings concerning the proposed Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. Together with a growing number of other voices in our society, the Catholic Church in Scotland is of the view that the proposed changes to the existing legislation risk creating grave medical, social and legal complications which will prove difficult to resolve and a source of harm to those they concern.
I am writing therefore to express the view that this proposed legislation would not serve the "common good", the best interests of our society.
True clinical gender dysphoria is a real, if reasonably rare, condition and, if persistent, can cause significant distress and anxiety to those affected by it. It must be distinguished from the normal developmental gender anxieties and uncertainties of adolescence, which can indeed also cause great pain to those who suffer them. However, the concern is that, by de-medicalising legal transition and moving to a self-declaratory model, this distinction will be lost and our society fail to provide the necessary health-professional support for those genuinely affected by gender dysphoria. Such a move risks failing vulnerable people. The question is, how can these gender anxieties and uncertainties be best addressed? Surely, not by blurring clinical boundaries, nor by allowing a certain social momentum - or indeed simply a current fashion - to determine our responses. My sense is that, by not permitting the proposed legislation to proceed, the Scottish Government would do us, and especially our youth, a great service and show itself more in tune with an ever more critical public opinion.
We are all deeply concerned for the health and wellbeing of our young people. The possibility of permanent legal declarations being made at such a young age, along with the ensuing surgery or non-surgical interventions (with unclear long-term effects), will not enhance this well-being. Currently, individuals under 18 years of age cannot buy cigarettes, purchase alcohol in licensed premises or get a tattoo. Yet the current Bill assumes they have the maturity to make permanent legal declarations on their gender which could lead to irreversible consequences, with scant knowledge of what this means for their long-term health and wellbeing.
Evidence indicates that most young people will not persist in gender dysphoria and will reconcile with their biological sex beyond adolescence. A paper in the British Journal of General Practice admitted that the majority of people presenting with gender dysphoria before puberty will "desist", and also that "35% of those seen in the Tavistock service have autism traits." The paper concludes with a call for "well-funded, independent, long-term research" to "ensure doctors meet their ethical duties to 'first do no harm' and fulfil good medical practice." We echo this call for more detailed research.
Finally, we are concerned that the proposed reform creates an increased risk to the safety of women. The Scottish Prison Service policy on transgender prisoners, for example, currently allows prison accommodation to "reflect the gender in which the person in custody is currently living." Since this guidance was implemented, the incidence rate of men identifying as women is now 350 times higher amongst the prison population than in the general population. Since many women in custody have often experienced what has been described as "quite grotesque and traumatic male violence", being asked to share their places of safety and refuge with individuals who they not unreasonably consider to be male and a threat - regardless of whether they are or not - is deeply problematic.
These are only a few of the concerns that could be raised here - the de-stabilising effect on families would be another. This whole subject has many aspects and is not best grasped when reduced to mere individual choice. We do not want to enter recklessly into such sensitive and uncharted territory. I envisage that even present policies will lead to a future backlash. There are some publicised instances of this already which explain the growing sense of unease. My earnest hope is that the Scottish Government will see the wisdom of desisting from any new legislation.
With assurance of my best wishes and prayers,
Bishop Hugh Gilbert,
Bishop of Aberdeen President of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland
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