#22171 (In Topic #3757)
|Family Court gives 17-year-old permission for breast removal|
PM - Monday, 4 May , 2009 18:46:00
Reporter: Sara Everingham
MARK COLVIN: The Family Court of Australia has given permission to a 17-year-old girl to have both her breasts surgically removed so she can become more like a boy.
Fairfax newspapers are reporting that the court decided it was in the girl's best interest to have the surgery at the age of 17 rather than wait until she turned 18.
One bioethicist says the desire to change sex is a psychological disorder and not one that should be treated medically.
Sara Everingham reports.
SARA EVERINGHAM: The girl at the centre of this case has been given the code name Alex.
In late 2007 she approached the Family Court to apply for permission to have both her breasts removed.
The Chief Justice of the Family Court Diana Bryant has ruled in Alex's favour.
The decision hasn't been published but Justice Bryant is quoted in media reports as saying that overwhelmingly the evidence was that having the surgery at that time was in Alex's best interest.
It's a decision that's outraged Professor Nicholas Tonti- Filippini, the head of bioethics at the John Paul Institute.
NICHOLAS TONTI- FILIPPINI: The prediction is in two years time she would make that decision then, so they should allow her to make it now but the court is obliged to act in her interest, whereas she is not. once she becomes an adult, as an adult you can act against your own interest. And it's not at all clear on the basis if the medical evidence that this is in her interests.
SARA EVERINGHAM: Back in 2003 the court gave Alex permission have hormone treatment that would begin the sex change process.
Alex is said to have been diagnosed with gender identity dysphoria, a condition where a person has the physical characteristics of one sex but longs to be the opposite sex.
Dr Tonti-Filippini argues it's a psychological condition and he thinks in this case the Family Court has been given limited expert opinion and that surgery isn't what's needed.
NICHOLAS TONTI- FILIPPINI: Most psychiatrists who treat people with gender dysphoria don't recommend the surgery and the transsexual changes. It worries me that this young woman is to have her breast cut off with the authority of the court, when the court hasn't got, well they haven't got the mainstream view.
SARA EVERINGHAM: How do you think this should be managed?
NICHOLAS TONTI- FILIPPINI: You've got to look at it in terms of a person who is usually not well socially adjusted and so you would need to deal with those things. So that there are beliefs there, there are attitudes there which are harmful to her, that prevent her from forming normal relationships with women.
MICHAEL ROBERTSON: Well that reflects a very simplistic view.
SARA EVERINGHAM: Dr Michael Robertson is a senior research fellow at the centre for values, ethics and the law in medicine at the University of Sydney
MICHAEL ROBERTSON: There are some people were confusion or distress about their gender reflects a mental illness, like a psychotic illness or a severe disturbance of personality, but the large majority, in my experience of these people, live lives in very rational and reflective ways as a different gender and do not have a psychological disorder.
SARA EVERINGHAM: Dr Robertson says the key issue in this case was whether Alex could give consent.
MICHAEL ROBERTSON: A simple question of capability or capacity was resolved in this case.
SARA EVERINGHAM: Jenny Millbank is a family law expert at the University of Technology Sydney. She believes it was a responsible decision.
JENNY MILLBANK: The opponents of these kind of decisions always point to the one or two very rare instances of people who do change their minds, all of whom in fact have been adults when they undertook the procedures.
SARA EVERINGHAM: Would it be better for the court to wait and allow the person to make the decision once they are an adult?
JENNY MILLBANK: I guess that kind of begs the question whether or not they're going to make it to adulthood. Kids in this kind of position tend to have very high rates of self-harm.
SARA EVERINGHAM: The Family Court says the decision will be published soon.
MARK COLVIN: Sara Everingham.
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