Marriage Matters

Do Gender Differences Really Matter? In Medicine They Do.

The issue of gender neutrality has taken center focus in many social and political circles of our everyday life. Described as the avoidance of distinguishing men from women – especially when it comes to the roles that they may fulfill – the gender neutrality movement has really caught on. But is that a good thing for our society?

At a recent visit to a hospital to visit a new mother, I was surprised to note that the whiteboard in the room that kept track of the names of the mom, baby and nursing staff had omitted a space for the father’s name. Rather, there was a place to put the “support” person’s name. At a state university, it was impossible to find the women’s restroom. All the facilities were labeled as “gender friendly” restrooms allowing anyone to use any restroom. Recently, there was an article in a local newspaper highlighting the possible changes in marriage certificates. Instead of listing the woman’s name and the man’s name, new certificates will just say “spouse one” and “spouse two.” That article was followed by one regarding birth certificates that were being rewritten to include up to five spaces for the names of the individuals who were involved in the conception, gestation, and parenting of the newborn.

With such a push to remove any mention of male/female differences, you can imagine my surprise when I received a commentary from Medscape (an online resource for physicians and health professionals) entitled, “Why Sex Differences in Basic Research Matter in the Clinic.” The title seemed to suggest that there are valid reasons to consider gender differences. Here is the essence of the commentary written by Dario Dieguez, Ph.D., and Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Sex should be the first consideration for a personalized medical approach to disease prevention and treatment… (It) is an important determinant in the experience of health, as well as in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. In fact, there is a strong association between sex and the incidence, prevalence, symptoms, age at onset, severity, and response to treatment for a variety of conditions unrelated to reproduction. The widespread incorporation of sex-based biology into standard clinical practice, alongside age and genetics, is needed in order to take the next step toward personalized medicine.”

Reading further, it became clear that each gender has a distinct physiology. What happens within a male body is uniquely different from that of a female’s body. Each sex has its own set of characteristics that impact a person at the cellular level. In order to help a person find a state of health and well-being, the authors are recommending that gender distinctions be considered. In fact, they went so far as to say that failure to incorporate the sex differences into clinical practice may be the difference between life and death.

Why is this true? Male and female distinctions are part of God’s plan for life and love. We learn about these differences in the first chapter of the Bible. The Catholic Church teaches us to respect the unique nature built into each gender and to honor the complementary nature that arises from their combination. 

I am grateful for these medical researchers who are calling their cohorts to study and consider the important differences between males and females. Their findings do run against the stream of gender neutrality. It is my hope that this medical research will be given its due in mainline media so that more persons can become more fully alive – more fully human as either a male or female.

By Alice Heinzen, Director of Marriage and Family Life

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