EDITORIAL: Sex change is afoot

College kids are switching more than their majors

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Harvard University has announced that next year its campus insurance plan will cover the cost of “bottom surgery” for people undergoing “gender reassignment.” Bottom surgery - the swapping out of the private parts - is often the last step taken by girls trying to become boys, and vice versa. Transgender activists hail this new coverage as a breakthrough for those purported to have “gender-identity disorder” (GID). They consider sex-change operations medically necessary treatment rather than an elective procedure as most insurance companies do.

In the name of being progressive, Harvard is choosing sides in a very controversial social, psychiatric and medical debate. According to a recent Swedish study tracking post-surgery mortality rates for “transsexuals,” a sex change “is a unique intervention not only in psychiatry but in all of medicine.” Solid information on long-term results is scant despite these radical procedures being conducted for over half a century. After following participants for 30 years, this study found that post-surgery transsexuals have higher rates of death, suicidal behavior and psychiatric morbidity (mental illness). This is hardly surprising.

“Psychiatry and surgery have had an extraordinary and very often destructive collaboration over the past 75 years or so … . It is a collaboration with few unequivocal successes,” University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics professor Carl Elliott wrote in an Atlantic article. He was musing on the ethics of complying with the treatment desires of apotemnophiliacs, people who want to cut off healthy limbs to fit in with their conception of their correct bodies.

Apotemnophiliacs (or the “transabled,” those with Body Integrity Identity Disorder, as some are starting to call it) consider so-called transgenders as pioneers in a similar struggle. “They point out that it took years for people who felt they were born into the wrong gender to convince the medical and psychiatric professions to recognize their plight, and that transgender individuals are now protected by anti-discrimination laws in many cities and states,” noted Jesse Ellison in Newsweek. But “some conservative voices in the medical community feel that the normalization of sex-change surgeries was the start of a slippery slope. ‘You keep pushing the envelope of impaired people who aren’t in touch with reality in some fashion, who develop ideas about their normalcy,’ says Dr. Mark Schiller, a psychiatrist and past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. ‘Essentially from just claiming that something’s the case, people just accept somebody’s distorted version of reality and then we get surgeons and others responding to the point of mangling normal bodies.’ “

Dr. Paul McHugh, Johns Hopkins University professor of psychiatry, told The Washington Times he couldn’t agree more. “It’s like giving liposuction to anorexics,” he says of sex-reassignment surgery. “Like anorexia nervosa, GID is a disorder of assumption. The public is going with this because they’ve been given the opinion that it’s the same as gay/lesbian/bisexual orientation. And it’s unpopular to hold back human expression in the sexual sphere.”

Anticipating malpractice lawsuits, Dr. McHugh predicts, “Harvard is going to rue the day. And young people being so treated will be provoked into saying they were improperly advised. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes when the fallout happens.” The real question is how many people will undergo sanctioned medical mutilation in pursuit of a fantasy before society wakes up. Harvard may be leading the way in this field, but it’s in a direction we shouldn’t be going.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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