Contradicting Nature

Rubén Noé Coronado Jiménez is 25 and pregnant with twins. He is unusual in that he is a transsexual man, in the middle of hormone treatments and about to undergo a full operation to change his sex: . The operation has, of course, been postponed while he and his female partner await the birth of their children.

Dr Josep-Luis Ballescà, a gynaecologist at the Clinical Hospital of Barcelona, has said that that the pregnancy is ‘not necessarily ethically acceptable: it is a contradiction.’

It’s hard to know quite what kind of contradiction Dr Ballescà has in mind. But it’s likely that part of what he means is that for a male to give birth goes against nature. And, if we assume that what is unnatural is morally wrong, we can draw the conclusion that Jiménez is acting wrongly. Either he should have had his children while still fully female, or he should have sought other means to have children, such as adoption.

The great C18 Scottish philosopher David Hume said that there is no word ‘more ambiguous and equivocal’ than ‘nature’ (Treatise First, what’s natural can be contrasted with what is supernatural or miraculous. On the face of it, a man’s giving birth to a baby is a miracle, but of course on closer inspection we find that this pregnancy can be explained in purely naturalistic terms. Second, what is typical or usual can be called natural. Certainly what’s going on here is unusual. But why think that what is unusual is bad, regrettable, or wrong? Acts of very great heroism are unusual; but their being unusual if anything makes them more praiseworthy. Third, the natural can be contrasted with the artificial. Again, given the use of reproductive technology in this pregnancy, it could not be described as natural. But it would be hard to take seriously the idea that we should avoid the artificial. Most medical treatment would be forbidden, so it seems unlikely that it is that Dr Ballescà was thinking of.

It is most probable that behind Dr Ballescà’s remark lies a commitment to a kind of teleology: the idea that the world is to be understood in terms of certain purposes or goals, and that each being should seek to achieve the purposes specific to it. This form of naturalism is often tied to theology, and raises the question how we can know the purposes of God. There are certainly passages from the scriptures in various traditions which can be used to criticize Jiménez’s actions; but those passages themselves are open to different interpretations, often informed by other passages of scripture. We are anyway entitled to ask why God might have ascribed to women the role of giving birth. The obvious answer is to continue the species, and there seems no reason why men shouldn’t play the same valuable role.

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2 Responses to Contradicting Nature

  • Michelle Hutchinson says:

    Pain in childbirth as a punishment for Eve’s eating the fruit seems like one way Christians could defend not making childbirth open to all (since men had their own punishment). But I guess not many would take that route, since then epidurals would be out.

  • Michelle Hutchinson says:

    While the comment about this pregnancy being a contradiction does seem rather inexplicable, there may be other reasons for its being unethical than its being unnatural.
    The article mentions worries over people becoming parents purely for the media coverage and so that they will be able to sell their stories. It would be difficult to defend stopping transsexuals from having fertility treatment on such grounds, since it’s very difficult to know what people’s motives are, and it would be unfair to stop them just in case their motives were bad. As it is, there is nothing stopping people from having children purely to get welfare benefits. And even if people did have children in order to get the media coverage and money, they might well turn out to be very good parents – they might be motivated by the money, but would not have gone ahead unless they knew they would be good parents.
    Another reason it might not be ethical is that it might put the child in danger – if the person is part way through a sex-change operation, there might be complications there would not be in a normal pregnancy. If these were great enough, perhaps that would raise ethical issues of whether it would be better for the person to adopt, than take the risk.


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