Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
August 11, 2022

The Hopkins Undergraduate Bioethics Society (HUBS) hosted Professor Dan O'Connor this past Monday to speak about the history of transablism - the idea that a person psychologically believes he will be better off if he or she were disabled. He presented his opinion on the subject and the potential future of the movement.

"We have hosted similar events in the past. The goal with our events is to promote critical thinking in an environment that develops awareness for the growing field of bioethics. We have held discussions, academic panels, and symposiums; however, the challenge for this event was deciding how to present the topic," Dennis Orkoulas-Razis, HUBS board member, said.

The event began with a 30-minute lecture by the professor, in which he provided some background on transablism and showed why modern society views it as such a bizarre feeling.

"Transablism goes against everything we have been doing in biomedical science for the last 200 years. The whole idea of medicine is to make people better off, and transablism, the need to make you worse off, goes against all of that. However, we need to understand the context behind transablism, and the physiological pain these people are going through," O'Connor said to his audience.

O'Connor also showed how transsexuality has provided a model for transablism, and that people who believe they need to be impaired use transsexuality to justify their thoughts. In terms of transsexuality, people have an idea of themselves that is completely incongruent to what society sees of their body. The same idea is true of people who believe they need to amputate a leg or become blind.

He shared a short anecdote about John Money, a famous physician at Hopkins who pioneered treatments in transsexuality. When the idea of transablism first arose, people believed the only person that would remove a perfectly healthy limb would be a doctor who deals with transsexuality.

Money believed these two men desired to lose a limb because of their attraction to apotemnophilia, an amputation fetish. However, their bodies were perfectly healthy. Money believed they did not actually want to lose a leg but were just stimulated by the idea.

"Transexuality works because we believe in gender, but society cannot get their heads around the fact that someone could truly believe that they would be better off with a certain physical disability. The treatment of transablism in popular culture, such as in TV shows, also paints transablism as bizarre, which makes it even harder for these people to tell their stories," O'Connor said.

Following a brief discussion on the effects that modern culture has on the idea of transablism, O'Connor fielded a few questions. He spoke about what he believed would be the future of the movement of transablism.

"There is very little research money in this movement and therefore Johns Hopkins most likely won't get involved in transablism," O'Connor told The News-Letter, "However, transablism will be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which will legitimate transablism as a true condition, but will also limit the flexibility in which people can discuss the idea, and possible solutions to transablism."

"This was a significant event because we want to engage the student body to develop critical thinking and inform the student body and other aspects of the Johns Hopkins community about issues prevalent in bioethics that affect our society," Orkoulas-Razis said.

There were about 30 people in attendance for this event, not including the members of the Bioethics Society. It was a diverse turnout with students who were interested in pursuing a career in bioethics, students who were taking a moral philosophy class and others who were just interested in the topic of debate.

"I thought the event was really interesting and the speaker presented it really well. He raised some very thought-provoking questions that challenged my pre-conceived views against transablism. I left the event very confused over which side I agreed with," senior Jordan Glassberg said.

O'Connor, who received his PhD from Hopkins, teaches two classes at Homewood and is a part of the Berman Institute of Bioethics. He has been part of Hopkins faculty since 2010.

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