- - Thursday, October 27, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With the right Halloween costume, anyone can be a zombie, a Kardashian or an NFL linebacker, if only for a night. It’s all good fun. Modern medicine is giving those seriously dissatisfied with themselves a chance to become someone else — for keeps (more or less). Rule-makers in Washington, however, want to require doctors to perform “gender-reassignment” procedures even when their professional judgment says no. Political fashion shouldn’t trump sound medicine.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule, which took effect in July, was challenged last week in a U.S. District Court in Texas by a wide-ranging coalition of church-affiliated hospitals and doctors, and eight states. “With a single stroke of the pen, HHS has created massive new liability for thousands of doctors unless they cast aside their professional judgment, convictions and common sense to perform procedures that can be deeply harmful to their patients,” wrote the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing plaintiffs from Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Arizona, and Mississippi.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule, which took effect in July, was challenged last week in a U.S. District Court in Texas by a wide-ranging coalition of church-affiliated hospitals and doctors, and eight states. “With a single stroke of the pen, HHS has created massive new liability for thousands of doctors unless they cast aside their professional judgment, convictions and common sense to perform procedures that can be deeply harmful to their patients,” wrote the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing plaintiffs from Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Arizona, and Mississippi.

The basis of the mandate is Health and Human Services’ reinterpretation of the 1972 Title IX amendment to the Civil Rights Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. In a novel twist of language, “sex” no longer means sex (without the quotation marks). Instead, “sex” means “gender identity,” which is “an individual’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual’s sex assigned at birth.” In Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” Humpty Dumpty describes the fanciful manipulation of English: “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” We know how things worked out for Humpty.

Failure to comply can subject doctors to liability, creating an unprecedented dilemma in which medical professionals must disregard their Hippocratic Oath to “reject harm and mischief,” and follow orders of mental health practitioners who endorse sex-change procedures. The mandate prompted 47 members of Congress to write to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell this month, questioning bureaucratic interference in medical decisions: “Never before has the federal government forced doctors to choose between caring for their patients based on their best medical judgment, and complying with federal law.”

Federal law, as everybody knows, can be the work of quacks. Of most concern with the HHS quackery is the application of the rule to cases in which children are diagnosed with gender dysphoria, or confusion over the sexual identity. It can be treated by administering puberty-inhibiting drugs, giving the child more time to decide whether to undergo sex-change surgery. Doctors value the option to withhold such treatment because studies show between 73 and 94 percent of children outgrow gender confusion without surgery or drugs. They deserve the chance to figure things out for themselves.

The mandate requires private insurance companies to pick up the tab for transgender procedures, which come to $1 billion annually, while government-run Medicare and Medicaid are exempt on the grounds that the health benefits of gender reassignment are inconclusive. Quackery is not for the government, only for the peasants. It’s reminiscent of Obamacare, which President Obama and congressional Democrats foisted on Americans while excusing themselves from its abuse.

Americans deserve the freedom to find their persona, but medical professionals shouldn’t be forced to provide services they think are ultimately harmful to searchers. There’s no law against gender confusion, and there should be none barring doctors from remedying it with caution. A change of sex isn’t as simple as becoming a zombie for the night.

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