2 out of 4 stars
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Second Lives, Second Chances is authored by Dr. Donald R. Laub, M.D. He is a retired surgeon who founded Interplast/ReSurge International, an organization providing plastic and reconstructive surgery for the underprivileged in developing countries. Dr. Laub has also been serving transsexuals through gender affirmation surgery and has received several awards for his humanitarian work.
A major crisis due to lymphoma brought a halt to the surgeon’s career, but he survived this cancer and concentrated on mentoring students in the field, especially at Stanford University. In this memoir, the author recalls heart-wrenching accounts of children who were shunned by society and experienced a “second life” after surgical treatment of cleft palates, cleft lips, and burns. This is my favorite part of the book. The author, now an octogenarian, relates the details of at least four patients (David Werner, Eugenio, Salvador, and Ella) who deeply influenced him as a surgeon, so much so that the ripples spread all over the world through his humanitarian efforts. I was moved to tears as I read their stories.
This 184-page book is written in the author’s humorous style, which makes reading very enjoyable. When I began, I was leaning towards rating it 4 out of 4 stars. The quality of Dr. Laub’s work impressed me, and I became his fan. As a Catholic, he shares about his vow to serve humanity, which is very inspiring. I appreciate how he reflects on the questions raised by a liberation theologian and surgeon-nun. He struggled to resolve his ethical dilemma regarding gender confirmation surgery. I do feel compassion for those who suffer due to gender dysphoria (experience of a mismatch between gender identity and biological sexual characteristics). However, at this point, I was taken aback with his arguments based on his discussions with experts, even referring to Pope Paul VI in the following words: “The pope formed a committee to look into the matter, and the conclusion was that it is right to help people become whole by matching their physical reality to their psychological reality via surgery if the procedure is medically indicated.” I was shocked by this statement about the Church’s position on transsexualism and decided not to rate it 4 stars. It cannot be substantiated, and this is the part I disliked most.
According to Catholic teaching, a chromosomally XY individual with female gender identity cannot marry another chromosomally XY individual in spite of undergoing gender reassignment surgery to have physical characteristics and genitalia of a woman. It would be considered a same-sex union and not regarded as a valid marriage. Such surgery is considered mutilation and cannot be justified on the basis of the “principle of totality.” Any changes in the sexual organs would cause infertility, which is against the ends of marriage, one of which is procreation. There is no official teaching of the Church, regarding gender reassignment surgery, and there is a lack of consensus among moral theologians from pastoral perspectives. In such a scenario, Dr. Laub’s statement about the Church’s position is misleading and unacceptable.
Regarding the presentation, I was irritated with words breaking into a new line when the text could easily have been justified. The tone of the last part was different as if someone else wrote it. I found a few grammatical errors and typos that neither distracted me nor affected the reading experience, which was full of humor. Hence, it looks as if the book has been professionally edited. After careful and critical analysis of the contents, I rate this book 2 out of 4 stars. I have a conscientious objection to some of the author’s unsubstantiated statements as mentioned above. Nevertheless, there may be doctors, surgeons, ethicists, pastoral workers, social workers, and individuals suffering from gender dysphoria who may wish to read this book. I hope Dr. Laub will clarify his remarks on the Catholic Church’s teachings in the next edition.
Second lives second chances
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