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Our readers asked:

If I want to get a tummy tuck or a breast enhancement am I committing a sin?

Richard G. Malloy, SJ Answers:

Question:  What’s the Catholic teaching on plastic surgery?  If I want to get a tummy tuck or a breast enhancement am I committing a sin?

Sin is the rejection of God who is love.  God gives you, well, your, body and soul!  Do you accept yourself as you are?  Is getting this or that plastic surgery rejecting God’s gift of your body, or does the surgery serve and achieve a truly therapeutic function?  There is a major difference between having breast reconstruction surgery after a radical mastectomy and getting a “nose job” as a high school graduation present so that you look “cuter.”  The real horror that plastic surgery has done to Burt Reynolds, Joan Rivers, and Kenny Rogers (and did to Michael Jackson), should make everyone think twice before going under the knife to preserve one’s “looks.”  We are to care for our bodies and the first rule is the same as that practiced by the medical profession: do no harm.  We are also called to accept the inevitable diminishment of our bodies.

The Catholic vision of human existence is that we are persons, body and soul.  Dualism, the idea that the soul is “better” or more important than the body is an erroneous idea, as is the idea that the body is all there is while the existence of the soul is just a matter of opinion.

The Catholic Catechism does not directly mention plastic surgery, but does offer this wise counsel:  “If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value.  It rejects the neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection and success at sports.  By its selective preference of the strong over the weak, such a conception can lead to the perversion of human relationships” (CCC #2289.  Italics in the original).

Bottom line: does the plastic surgery you contemplate having really repair some aspect of your body that truly needs repair or improvement (e.g., facial scars after a car accident; a child’s cleft palate), or does it just make your body fit some non-Christian, less human view of what a person should look like (e.g., “hooters boobs”; penile enlargement)?  Does the plastic surgery you are considering pervert or enhance truly human relationships?

The Author : Richard G. Malloy, SJ
Richard G. Malloy, S.J., Ph.D., is Vice President for University Ministries, the University of Scranton, Scranton, PA, and author of A Faith That Frees (Orbis Books).
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