SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

What is God’s Opinion on Plastic Surgery? (I of II)

March 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Church Teaching, Fr. Bartunek, Moral Issues

I was wondering what is God's opinion on plastic surgery. I didn't know if there was any information in the catechism, Bible, or something said by a saint on this matter. I personally have struggled with wanting to have it but, I don't want to offend our Lord. I'm hoping you might know the answer. Thanks in advance!

As far as I know, the topic of plastic surgery was never broached explicitly in the Bible, nor has it been specifically addressed in the Church’s magisterium. So in order to know “God’s opinion” about it, we will have to analyze it in terms of human nature and basic moral and spiritual principles. I hope that doesn’t turn you off!

To start out, it’s pretty clear that you have already received an important grace in this regard. You have some doubts about this issue, and so you are seeking clarity. This in itself is a sign of an active interior life, a capacity for reflection and for hearing the voice of conscience. The Holy Spirit is at work in your life, and you are listening. What a blessing!

A Moral Matrix
Any time we make a moral decision, three factors go into determining whether that decision is morally good or evil. In the first place, there is the quality of action in question. Killing an innocent person, for example, is always morally wrong. It violates an objective moral good. In the second place, there are the circumstances surrounding the action in question. Circumstances can never make an evil action into a good action, but they can sometimes make a good action into an evil action. For example, a parent may experience righteous anger towards an incompetent teacher who has caused some problems for his or her child. But expressing that anger in the presence of the child may cause more harm than good. In this case, the circumstance of having the child present in the room would make a perfectly acceptable behavior (rational expression of just anger) into a scandalous one. Thirdly, there is the intention of the person performing the action. An action that seems morally neutral or even good on the surface can actually be distorted by a perverse intention. A good example of this is the prayers and offerings of the Pharisees, which Jesus speaks about in the Gospels. Many Pharisees performed those good actions not in order to give glory to God, but in order to draw attention to themselves. And so, the moral value of those actions was vitiated.

So let’s look at plastic surgery in terms of the action, the circumstances, and the intention.

Moral Dimensions
Plastic surgery in itself comes in many different forms: nose reconstructions, breast enhancements, fat reductions, skin grafts… If any of these surgeries were to damage or distort or mutilate a person’s physical or psychological integrity, they would be objectively wrong. A clear example of this would be trans-gender surgeries – surgically attempting to change one’s gender is not a fruitful path to sexual and personality integration. Even some seemingly innocent (and very common) procedures often have physiological side-effects that can be problematic. So, anyone considering plastic surgery needs to do their homework. Are the physiological (and even economic) consequences or risks really balanced out by the benefits being sought? Reconstructive surgeries that happen as a help to recover from traumas (burns, for example, or breast damage caused by cancer surgeries) seem to produce truly therapeutic outcomes. In these cases, the risks and costs could indeed be reasonable. There needs to be reasonable proportion between the benefit that the surgery will garner, and the risks that the surgery involves.

What about the circumstances? Here it’s harder to make a general judgment. Someone whose livelihood depends on their looks, for example, may have a strong motivation for having a nose reconstruction, for example. Or someone whose health is in danger may need to have surgery that will help lead to healthy weight control. In both these cases, we are dealing with types of surgery that seem to be acceptable in themselves (unlike trans-gender surgeries, for example, or physical mutilation).

In the part two of our post, we'll look at the spiritual motivations for having plastic surgery and what this means for the integral dignity of the person considering it.


Art: Various scalpels, both fixed blade and replaceable blade, from various manufacturers; 33 days after lip surgery, age at ten months, own work, King97tut; both PD-worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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