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Whoa, Momma!

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Tracey Henry and Suzannah DiMarzio

Sex change operations for kids on the rise

21

February

Interesting to read here that doctors not only have guidelines about giving children sex change operations, they say they are on the rise.

By some estimates, 1 in 10,000 children have the condition known as "gender identity disorder."  Offering sex-changing treatment to kids younger than 18 raises ethical concerns, and their parents' motives need to be closely examined, said Dr. Margaret Moon, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' bioethics committee.



Some kids may get a psychiatric diagnosis when they are just hugely uncomfortable with narrowly defined gender roles; or some may be gay and are coerced into treatment by parents more comfortable with a sex change than having a homosexual child, said Moon, who teaches at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

It's harmful "to have an irreversible treatment too early," Moon said.

But doctors who provide the treatment say withholding it would be more harmful because these children sometimes resort to self-mutilation to try to change their anatomy.

Guidelines from the Endocrine Society endorse transgender hormone treatment but say it should not be given before puberty begins. At that point, the guidelines recommend puberty-blocking drugs until age 16, then lifelong sex-changing hormones with monitoring for potential health risks. Mental health professionals should be involved in the process, the guidelines say.

In a Pediatrics report, the mother of a Los Angeles 8-year-old says he's eager to begin treatment. When the child was told he could get shots to block breast development, "he was so excited," the mother said. He also knows he'll eventually be taking testosterone shots for life but surgery right now is uncertain.

The child attends a public school where classmates don't know he is biologically a girl. She said she explained about having a girl's anatomy but he rejected that, refused to wear dresses, and has insisted on using a boy's name since preschool.

The mother first thought it was a phase, then that her child might be a lesbian, and sought a therapist's help to confirm her suspicion. That's when she first heard the term "gender identity disorder" and learned it's often not something kids outgrow. Accepting his identity has been difficult for both parents, the woman said. Private schools refused to enroll him as a boy, and the family's pediatrician refused to go along with their request to treat him like a boy. They found a physician who would, Dr. Jo Olson, medical director of a transgender clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Olson said the journal reports should help persuade more doctors to offer these kids sex-changing treatment or refer them to specialists who will.

"It would be so nice to move this out of the world of mental health, and into the medical world," Olson said.

--Follow us on Twitter @WhoaMomma

[Last modified: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 1:25pm]

    

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