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A new pro-life saint? This Italian mother sacrificed her life for her unborn baby

Facebook screenshot of photo of Maria Cristina Cella Mocellin, an Italian mother who sacrificed her life for the sake of her baby. / Facebook

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 18, 2021 / 12:07 pm (CNA).

“Riccardo, you are a gift for us.” These are the words a 26-year-old Italian mother wrote to her newborn 26 years ago. They were words she was willing to live by – and die for.

On Aug. 30, Pope Francis advanced the sainthood cause of Maria Cristina Cella Mocellin, who sacrificed her life for the sake of her baby. Catholics already are comparing her to another saint, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, because both women refused medical treatment that would have endangered their unborn babies, according to EWTN Pro-Life Weekly. After close examination, the Church now recognizes Maria Cristina as a “venerable” for leading a heroically virtuous life.  

This is the story of that life.

Maria Cristina was born in 1969 in a town called Cinisello Balsamo, located in Milan. According to La Stampa, she grew up next to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joan Antida Thouret, and served as a catechist and youth leader. She strongly considered religious life while still a young teenager. 

“Lord, show me the way: it doesn't matter if you want me as a mother or a nun, what really matters is that I always do your will,” she wrote in her spiritual diary in 1985.

Her vocation became clear when, at 16 years old, she met Carlo Moccellin. She was called to marriage – a marriage with him. She never wavered from that conviction, even when doctors discovered a sarcoma in her left leg, Vatican News reported. 

“I realized that everything is a gift, even a disease, because if lived in the best way it can really help to grow,” she wrote to Carlo in 1988.

She was successfully treated, and finished her high-school education before marrying Carlo in 1991. They soon welcomed two children into their home, Francesco and Lucia. They were expecting a third – Riccardo – when they found out that her cancer had returned. 

Her first thought was of her unborn baby boy. 

“My reaction was to say over and over: ‘I am pregnant! I am pregnant! But doctor I am pregnant,’” she wrote in a 1995 letter to her little Riccardo. “I fought with all my power and did not give up on the idea of giving birth to you, so much so that the doctor understood everything and said no more.”

Maria Cristina refused the chemotherapy treatments that would have threatened her unborn baby’s life. Instead, she waited until after Riccardo was born, in 1994. But at that point, the cancer had already spread to her lungs and caused her tremendous suffering. 

“I believe that God would not allow pain if he did not want to obtain a secret and mysterious but real good,” she wrote. “I believe that one day I will understand the meaning of my suffering and I will thank God for it.”

On Oct. 22, 1995, she died at 26 years old. 

But her story – and her baby – live on. In her letter to Riccardo, which she penned a month before she died, she stressed the beauty of his life.

“Dear Riccardo, you need to know that you are not in the world by chance,” she began. “The Lord wanted your birth despite all the problems there were… when we found out about you, we loved you and wanted you with all our heart.”

“It was that evening, in the car on the way back from the hospital, that you moved for the first time. It seemed as if you were saying, ‘Thank you mamma for loving me!’ And how could we not love you?” she added. “You are precious, and when I look at you and see you so beautiful, lively, friendly, I think that there is no suffering in the world that is not worth bearing for a child.”

Maria Cristina wrote regularly, and kept a spiritual journal, according to The Associazione Amici di Cristina (Friends of Cristina Association), which promotes the dignity of human life in honor of its namesake. The association’s website includes excerpts from her diary and from her letters.

“Lord I only want You! I only love you! I'm just looking for you!” the organization quotes her as saying. “What does it matter to suffer in life if you are around the corner waiting for me to give me immense joy?”

Joy appears repeatedly in her writings.

“It is my motto: ‘Do everything with joy!’” she stressed in a 1985 letter to Carlo. “Even if sometimes it costs me a lot, especially when my morale is low or when … ‘it seems to you that all things are against you …’ as you say, in your beautiful letter. But, as light comes after darkness, so, after despair, rediscover joy.”

This joy shaped her love of God and her love for Carlo.

“Don't you think it’s extraordinary?” Maria Cristina asked Carlo in 1987. “If it weren't for you and I who love each other, the world would lack that something that no one else in our place could give.”

You can learn more about the extraordinary life of Maria Cristina in this video from EWTN Pro-Life Weekly:

She also wrote of God’s love – and the call to perfection.

“I become holy to the extent that I empty myself of everything, I remove every impediment from my mind, heart and life to allow myself to be completely penetrated by the love of God,” she stressed to Carlo in 1990. “More concretely, it means living everyday life with great simplicity, in the family, in the study, in the relationship with you, Carlo. My place is in the simple and ‘routine.’”

In the simple, she found the miraculous. In the ordinary, she discovered the extraordinary.

The year that she died, she wrote in another letter that “Although my health is precarious… I AM HAPPY!” She concluded, “I am ashamed to ask the Lord for anything else, for us the miracle is already there: if He loves us and we love each other, nothing else matters.”

Everything you need to know about the miracle of liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius

Pope Francis and Cardinal Sepe hold relic of St. Januarius' blood in Naples cathedral March 21, 2015. / CTV.

Naples, Italy, Sep 18, 2021 / 10:38 am (CNA).

On Sept. 19, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Januarius, bishop, martyr, and patron saint of Naples, Italy. Traditionally, on this day and on two other occasions a year, his blood, which is kept in a glass ampoule in the shape of a rounded cruet, liquifies. According to documentation cited by the Italian media Famiglia Cristiana, the miracle has taken place since at least 1389, the first instance on record.

Here are the key facts:

1. The blood is kept in two glass ampoules.

The dried blood of St. Januarius, who died around 305 A.D., is preserved in two glass ampoules, one larger than the other, in the Chapel of the Treasury of the Naples Cathedral.

2. The liquefaction is a miracle

The Church believes that the miracle takes place in response to the dedication and prayers of the faithful. When the miracle occurs, the mass of reddish dried blood, adhering to one side of the ampoule, turns into completely liquid blood, covering the glass from side to side.

3. The blood traditionally liquifies three times a year.

The saint's blood traditionally liquefies three times a year: in commemoration of the transfer of his remains to Naples (the Saturday before the first Sunday in May); on his liturgical feast (Sept. 19), and on the anniversary of the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 1631 when his intercession was invoked and the city was spared from the effects of the eruption (Dec. 16).

4. The liquefaction can take days.

The liquefaction process sometimes takes hours or even days, but sometimes it doesn't happen at all. Normally, after a period that can range from two minutes to an hour, the solid mass turns red and begins to bubble.

The ampoules, which contain a dark solid mass, are enclosed in a reliquary that is held up and rotated sideways by a priest to show the blood has liquified. This is usually done by the Archbishop of Naples while the people pray.

According to the Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, the reliquary with the ampoules remains on view for the faithful for eight days, during which they can kiss it while a priest turns it to show that the blood is still liquid. Then it is returned to the safety vault and locked away inside the Chapel of the Treasury of the Cathedral.

5. The faithful venerate the relic every year.

With the exclamation: "The miracle has happened!" the people approach the priest holding the reliquary to kiss the relic and sing the "Te Deum" in thanksgiving.

6. There is no scientific explanation.

Several investigations have already been conducted in the past to find a scientific explanation that answers the question of how something solid can suddenly liquefy, but none has been satisfactory so far.

7. The liquefaction does not always occur.

When the blood doesn’t liquefy, the Neapolitans take it as an omen of misfortune.

The blood did not liquefy in September 1939, 1940, 1943, 1973, 1980, nor in December 2016.

The relic also remained solid the year Naples elected a communist mayor, but it spontaneously liquefied when the late Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Terence Cooke, visited the St. Januarius shrine in 1978.

8. The blood has liquefied in the presence of some popes.

In 2015, while Pope Francis was giving some advice to the religious, priests, and seminarians of Naples, the blood liquefied again.

The last time the liquefaction occurred before a pontiff was in 1848 with Pius IX. It did not happen when John Paul II visited the city in October 1979 or in the presence of Benedict XVI in October 2007.

Pope Francis invokes Abraham Lincoln in message to safeguarding summit

Pope Francis at his general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace Jan. 27, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis invoked Abraham Lincoln in a video message released on Saturday to a safeguarding summit organized by the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe.

Addressing participants in the meeting in Warsaw, Poland, the pope referred to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered 41 days before the president’s assassination in 1865.

“‘With malice toward none, with charity for all,’ I urge you to be humble instruments of the Lord, at the service of the victims of abuse, considering them as companions and protagonists of a common future, learning from each other to become more faithful and resilient so that, together, we might face the challenges of the future,” the pope said in a video message issued on Sept. 18.

Pope Francis has referred to the 16th president of the United States before. In his historic speech to the U.S. Congress in 2015, the pope singled out Lincoln alongside four other notable Americans, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

“This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that ‘this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom,’” he said, quoting from the 1863 Gettysburg Address.

“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.”

During his 2015 U.S. visit, Francis spoke at the lectern that Lincoln used in Gettysburg as he gave an address outside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

The meeting in Warsaw, “Our Common Mission of Safeguarding God’s Children,” is taking place on Sept. 19-22 with the support of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and the Bishops’ Conferences of Central and Eastern Europe.

Participants from an estimated 20 countries will reflect on the Church’s response to clerical abuse in the region.

The pope urged leaders to put the welfare of victims ahead of seeking to defend the Church’s reputation.

“Our expressions of sorrow must be converted into concrete pathways of reform to both prevent further abuse and to give confidence to others that our efforts will bring about real and reliable change,” he said.

“I encourage you to listen to the cry of the victims and to dedicate yourselves, with each other and with society in a broader sense, in these important discussions because they truly touch the future of the Church in Central and Eastern Europe -- not only the Church’s future, but the hearts of Christians as well. This is our responsibility.”

Speakers at the meeting include Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, president of the Pontifical Commission, and Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of the Polish bishops’ conference.

O’Malley said: “I want to begin by acknowledging and thanking survivors of sexual abuse by clergy who continue to come forward and share their experience. It is because of their courage that others can be spared from experiencing this horror.”

“There is no place or group of people that is immune to being impacted by this crime and sin. It has tragically infiltrated the Church in all countries and all cultures. As leaders, we must be recognized as people committed and accountable, always and everywhere, to the safety of the children entrusted to our pastoral care.”

“The journey of learning will be ongoing throughout our lives. Conversion to a culture of safeguarding is an urgent priority.”

Also speaking is the Chilean abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, who was appointed to the Pontifical Commission in March.

He told Vatican News that it was important to recognize that “dealing with abuse cases right now is an emergency.”

“If we don’t deal with these issues, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” he said, crediting Pope Francis with developing the Church’s response to abuse.

In his video message, the pope said: “The recognition of our errors and our failings can certainly make us feel vulnerable and fragile. But it can also present a moment of splendid grace, a moment of self-emptying, that opens new horizons of love and reciprocal service.”

“If we recognize our mistakes, we have nothing to fear, because it will be the Lord himself who will have led us to that point.”

Pope Francis: Synodal process not about ‘gathering opinions,’ but ‘listening to the Holy Spirit’

Pope Francis greets Catholics from Rome diocese in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Sept. 18, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Sep 18, 2021 / 07:25 am (CNA).

Pope Francis said on Saturday that the two-year process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality is not about “gathering opinions,” but “listening to the Holy Spirit.”

Addressing Catholics from the Diocese of Rome on Sept. 18, the pope noted that preparations for the synod would take place in three phases between October 2021 and October 2023.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He said that the process sought to create “a dynamism of mutual listening” at all levels of the Church.

“This is not about gathering opinions, no. This is not an inquiry; but it is about listening to the Holy Spirit,” he said.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.

A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The third, universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023 with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”

The 84-year-old pope read his live-streamed address seated in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, frequently adding off-the-cuff remarks.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The speech was one of his most extensive reflections on the theme of “synodality,” a concept at the heart of his pontificate.

At one point, he apologized for the length of his speech, but said it was necessary as “the synod is a serious thing.” The audience responded with applause.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope outlined his vision and hopes for the synod, which some Vatican commentators have described as the most significant Catholic event since the Second Vatican Council in 1962-65.

He said that, as Bishop of Rome, he considered it vital that the Diocese of Rome committed itself “with conviction” to the synodal process.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Smiling, he said it would be an “embarrassment” if his own diocese did not embrace the initiative.

“The theme of synodality is not a chapter in a treatise on ecclesiology, much less a fad, a slogan, or a new term to use or instrumentalize in our meetings. No! Synodality expresses the nature of the Church, its form, its style, its mission,” he explained.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“And so we speak of a Synodal Church, avoiding, however, to consider that it is just one title among others, a way of thinking about it that foresees alternatives.”

The pope said that this wasn’t simply a “theological opinion” or merely a “personal thought,” but rather the blueprint for the Church contained in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows the early Christian community “walking together.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He reflected on episodes from the New Testament book, which showed how the first Christians resolved their seemingly irreconcilable differences by gathering together to make decisions.

He repeatedly emphasized the Holy Spirit’s leading role in decision-making.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He said: “There will always be discussions, thank God, but solutions are to be sought by giving the word to God and his voices in our midst; by praying and opening our eyes to all that surrounds us; by practicing a life faithful to the Gospel; examining Revelation according to a pilgrim hermeneutic that knows how to preserve the path begun in the Acts of the Apostles.”

“And this is important: the way of understanding, of interpreting. A pilgrim hermeneutic, that is, one that is on the move. The journey that began after the Council? No. It began with the first Apostles and continues.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

Describing how the faith is passed on from one generation to the next, the pope quoted the composer Gustav Mahler as saying that fidelity to tradition does not consist of “the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.”

He said: “You see how our Tradition is a leavened dough, a reality in ferment where we can recognize growth, and in the dough, a communion that is implemented in movement: walking together realizes true communion.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The pope stressed the importance of the diocesan phase of the synodal process. Earlier this month, the Vatican released a preparatory document and handbook to help dioceses worldwide to take part.

The pope said the initial phase was critical because it sought to involve “the totality of the baptized.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“There are many resistances to overcome the image of a Church rigidly distinguished between leaders and subordinates, between those who teach and those who must learn, forgetting that God likes to overturn positions,” he commented.

He continued: “The exercise of the sensus fidei [sense of the faith] cannot be reduced to the communication and comparison of opinions that we may have regarding this or that theme, that single aspect of doctrine, or that rule of discipline.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

“No, those are instruments, they are verbalizations, they are dogmatic or disciplinary expressions. But the idea of distinguishing majorities and minorities must not prevail: a parliament does that.”

The pope then meditated on the meaning of the phrase “people of God,” a major theme of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium.

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

He said that belonging to the people of God was not a matter of “exclusivity” but of receiving a gift that comes with the responsibility to witness to God.

“Why do I tell you these things?” he asked. “Because in the synodal journey, listening must take into account the sensus fidei, but it must not overlook all those ‘presentiments’ embodied where we would not expect them.”

Vatican Media.
Vatican Media.

The Holy Spirit, he said, knows no boundaries and parishes should therefore be open to all and not limit themselves “to considering only those who attend or think like you.”

“Allow everyone to enter... Allow yourselves to go out to meet them and allow yourselves to be questioned, let their questions be your questions, allow yourselves to walk together: the Spirit will lead you, trust the Spirit. Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue and allow yourselves to be disturbed by the dialogue: it is the dialogue of salvation,” he said.

Concluding his address, Pope Francis urged members of Rome diocese to play an active role in the synod’s preparations.

“I have come here to encourage you to take this synodal process seriously and to tell you that the Holy Spirit needs you. And this is true: the Holy Spirit needs us. Listen to him by listening to each other. Don’t leave anyone out or behind,” he said.

“It will be good for the Diocese of Rome and for the whole Church, which is strengthened not just by reforming structures -- that is the great deception! -- by giving instructions, offering retreats and conferences, or through directives and programs -- this is good, but as part of something else -- but if it rediscovers that it is a people that wants to walk together, among ourselves and with humanity.”

He added: “But it is necessary to get out of the 3-4% that represents those closest to us, and go beyond that to listen to the others, who will sometimes insult you, they will chase you away, but it is necessary to hear what they think, without wanting to impose our things: let the Spirit speak to us.”

Argentine archbishop warns president: 'There is little time left' to avoid debacle

Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez at the Holy See press office, Oct. 8, 2014. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 18, 2021 / 06:01 am (CNA).

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández of La Plata warned Argentine president Alberto Fernández Thursday that his priorities, such as abortion, marijuana, euthanasia, and non-binary language, don’t respond to the "profound anguish" of the people.

"For the love of this wounded country, many of us hope that the President can revise in time the priorities on his agenda, to avoid a debacle that would end up harming our people even more," the Argentine prelate wrote in a Sept. 16 column in La Nación, an Argentine daily.

Archbishop Fernández said the Argentine president has been "all taken up with abortion, marijuana, and even euthanasia, while the poor and the middle class were deeply anguished with other things that have gotten no response."

“In recent months there has been a strong push to impose ‘non-binary’ language that in the sprawling slums no one seems to be interested in. Perhaps you want to copy the agenda of Spanish socialism, forgetting that we are here in Latin America, and to top it all, in the middle of a pandemic, where circumstances demand dealing with other more pressing issues.”

“At the end of last year, while neighboring countries were buying vaccines, here the Ministry of Health was in the middle of a passionate campaign for abortion. At least it must be recognized that it was not the right time nor the most pressing need,” the Archbishop of La Plata pointed out.

A law permitting elective abortion up to 14 weeks, pushed by the Fernandez administration, was adopted in December 2020.

The archbishop noted that many women whose need for abortion the government believed it was responding to, “were living from day to day, with their families torn apart, their children who had dropped out of school and had fallen into drugs and crime, and with money worth less every day.” 

"Thus the social agenda that could have characterized this government was blurred, and so a great opportunity was squandered," he lamented.

Inflation in Argentina is expected to reach 48.2% in 2021, with an economic growth rate of 6.8%.

Referring to the primary elections held over the weekend, Archbishop Fernández said that “the very low turnout by people who don’t feel represented by other political options but are too fed up to go out and vote” ought to grab one’s attention.

It speaks volumes “that in many poor neighborhoods 40% of the people didn’t vote, although in reality this campaign with few real proposals and many slogans didn’t enthuse anyone," he added.

Open primary elections were held last weekend in Argentina. According to the Spanish language edition of CNN, if the results are repeated in November in the general elections, Frente de Todos, the governing coalition, would lose the majority it holds in the Senate; it is already in the minority in the Chamber of Deputies.

The Archbishop of La Plata stressed that Fernández "still has time to give priority to major social problems," although he pointed out that "sometimes politics gets confused when it believes that talking about certain issues responds to the expectations of society, and in reality it is only flattering minority sectors close to it.”

"That’s not the Argentine people, and the votes seem to show it," he stressed.

"However, some members of the government itself seem to think that the solution is to become more radical, without seeing that this would be getting closer to the abyss," he lamented.

Archbishop Fernández then asked “who wouldn’t forgive the President for the misstep of the little party in Olivos if they had felt him closer to their real problems? The point is that he treated those who did the same as he did as ‘imbeciles,’ as well as when he asked for a respectful debate on abortion while calling those who thought differently ‘hypocrites.’”

Fernández’ domestic partner, Fabiola Yáñez, had organized a party July 14, amid a COVID-19    quarantine.

In April, the president said in reference to those who criticized the high number of COVID-19 cases in the country that “I hear these idiots saying that the infected are a political solution. Does anyone think that the one who governs a country gains by doing politics with the numbers of those infected? You have to be a total idiot to say those things or a very bad person.”

The Archbishop of La Plata noted that "our people are generous and are capable of giving another chance to those who know how to retrace their footsteps and get back on track."

“Hopefully this will be the case, so that an economy that has been damaged for several years can be rebuilt and we can begin to resolve the difficulties of the great majority that is suffering. There are already many people tired of waiting,” he concluded.

Archbishop Fernández' column was published one day after the resignation of all the ministers and senior officials representing Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the cabinet, and amid a public confrontation between her and Fernández.

Canadian Bishops to hold Plenary Assembly online

Canada's Bishops announce that due to the ongoing health crisis, they will be holding their plenary assembly online for a second consecutive year.

Pope: Misguided concern for Church reputation should not sideline abuse victims' welfare

In a video message to a 3-day conference in Warsaw, Poland, on safeguarding children from abuse in the Church, Pope Francis hopes such efforts will bring about real and reliable change.

Angolan delegation to the Eucharistic Congress expresses joy at participation.

The Eucharistic Congress was an opportunity to share our hope and joy in the Blessed Eucharist, says Bishop Luzizila Kiala, head of the Angolan delegation to the Congress.

Pope to Rome's faithful: Synodality expresses the nature of the Church

In a discourse to the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis describes the Synodal process due to begin in October and the importance of the diocese as the Church works together to feel part of “one great people”.

UK woman who regrets teen gender transition sees court victory overturned on appeal

null / Ink Drop/Shutterstock

London, England, Sep 17, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).

A woman who says she was too young when a gender clinic prescribed her puberty blockers has lamented that a U.K. appeals court has overturned a previous decision holding that children under age 16 are unlikely to be able to consent.

“I am obviously disappointed with the ruling of the court today, and especially that it did not grapple with the significant risk of harm that children are exposed to by being given powerful experimental drugs,” said Keira Bell, according to the U.K. newspaper The Guardian.

Bell, who is now in her mid-twenties, was one of two claimants in a legal challenge to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Britain's main Gender Identity Development Service for children. She was prescribed puberty-blocking drugs around the age of 15 to stop the process of developing female sexual characteristics. A year later she began to take cross-sex hormones to promote the development of male characteristics and underwent breast removal surgery at the age of 20.

She said the clinic should have challenged her more over her desire to have a gender transition. Both claimants argued that prescribing puberty-blocking drugs to children under age 18 was unlawful as they were not competent to offer valid consent to the treatment.

“A global conversation has begun and has been shaped by this case,” Bell said Friday. “There is more to be done. It is a fantasy and deeply concerning that any doctor could believe a 10-year-old could consent to the loss of their fertility.”

She said she had “no regrets” about bringing the case. Doing so “shone a light into the dark corners of a medical scandal that is harming children and harmed me.” She aims to seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, BBC News reports.

The Court of Appeal overturned a December 2020 high court ruling that said children are unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty.

The Sept. 17 ruling said there are “difficulties and complexities” in these cases, but that “it is for the clinicians to exercise their judgement knowing how important it is that consent is properly obtained according to the particular individual circumstances.”

A Tavistock spokesperson praised the ruling, saying it “upholds established legal principles which respect the ability of our clinicians to engage actively and thoughtfully with our patients in decisions about their care and futures.”

“It affirms that it is for doctors, not judges, to decide on the capacity of under-16s to consent to medical treatment,” the spokesperson said.

Backers of puberty blockers prescribe them to children who are experiencing gender dysphoria. The NHS defines this as “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.”


The Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service backed their use because this “allows a young person time to consider their options and to continue to explore their developing gender identity before making decisions about irreversible forms of treatment.”

It argued against the high court ruling, saying it interfered with the ability of children to make decisions for themselves. It said the expert evidence presented against its practices was “partisan.”

The other claimant in the case was the mother of an unnamed teenage autistic girl waiting for treatment.  

“A child experiencing gender distress needs time and support – not to be set on a medical pathway they may later regret,” said the claimant, identified in news reports only as Mrs. A.

In the past five years, the number of people referred to the Gender Identity Development Service has almost doubled. According to the service's website, there were 1,408 referrals in 2015-16 and 2,728 in 2019-20.

Alison Holt, social affairs correspondent for BBC News, said that the ruling has effectively “removed the courts from the decision-making process in all but the most difficult cases.”

In the December high court decision, the judges said that children under the age of 16 could only consent to puberty blockers if they were “competent to understand the nature of the treatment.” This includes “an understanding of the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment, the limited evidence available as to its efficacy or purpose, the fact that the vast majority of patients proceed to the use of cross-sex hormones, and its potential life-changing consequences for a child.”

“It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers. It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.”

The December decision said the clinical interventions are still “innovative and experimental.”

Puberty-suppressing drugs had been prescribed to children as young as 10 on the basis of informed consent. This is a fundamental principle of modern medicine in which a doctor informs a patient of potential risks before they agree to undergo medical treatment.

In March 2021, the High Court’s family division allowed parental consent to puberty blockers for children under 16, so long as safeguarding measures were considered.

In September 2020, before the first High Court ruling, the National Health Service had commissioned Dr. Hilary Cass to review its gender identity services, an NHS spokesman said. This review aimed to “to ensure the best model of safe and effective care is delivered.” The review will set “wide-ranging recommendations,” including the use of puberty blockers and “the many contested clinical issues identified by the court.”

The review is not yet finished.

In March 2021, Sweden’s Karolinska University Hospital, which treats minors with gender dysphoria, said it would cease providing “puberty blocking” drugs or cross-sex hormones to children under the age of 16. It cited concerns about long-term effects of the drugs and hormone procedures, as well as questions about the fully informed consent of patients under the age of 16. Its statement cited the December 2020 decision against Tavistock. Children with gender dysphoria would still be able to receive psychological and psychiatric care, it said.

In October 2019, a Swedish investigative television show reported that the hospital performed double mastectomies on children as young as 14 years old.

Other critics of transition procedures have come forward. In a June 25 essay for Newsweek, New York woman Grace Lidinsky-Smith said she regrets going through gender transition surgery. She believed other factors motivated her decision to seek a gender transition.

Lidinsky-Smith is president of the Gender Care Consumer Advocacy Network. The organization lobbies against efforts legally to prohibit “trans care,” arguing instead for best practices and accountability for medical providers. She backs the standards of WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, but laments that there is no requirement that these standards be followed.

Paul McHugh, psychiatry professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has criticized WPATH standards and purported gender transition protocols that progress from social transition, to medical interventions and to surgery. He says they lack evidence.

McHugh provided testimony in an amicus brief for the U.S. Supreme Court Case of Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, decided in 2020. There, he wrote that WPATH itself has said that “no controlled clinical trials of any feminizing/masculinizing hormone regimen have been conducted to evaluate safety or efficacy in producing physical transition.”

The Biden administration, citing its interpretation of sex discrimination law, backs a federal requirement that doctors and insurers provide or cover gender-transitioning procedures upon referral. Last month a federal judge ruled in favor of Catholic and Christian health care organizations opposed to this mandate.

Some U.S. and European jurisdictions have passed strict laws banning “conversion therapy” that seeks to change sexual orientation and gender identity. Other jurisdictions have sought to ban gender transition for minors.