Interview - AMA President, Dr Bill Glasson, with Matthew Abraham and David Bevan, Radio ABC 891 Adelaide 'Morning' - The Family Court's decision allowing a 13-year old girl to undergo a sex change

14/04/2004

E & OE - PROOF ONLY



COMPERE:         Well it is a remarkable story published in The Age newspaper today and it reads 'the family court has allowed a 13 year old girl to begin treatment to become a boy'.  Chief Justice Alistair Nicholson in a landmark judgement described the testimony that painted the child - that painted the picture of a child who had lived as a boy from a young age, shunning dresses and dolls for tanks and swords. 

It's not just something as superficial as this, no this child - the child's primary school principal told Justice Nicholson that the child had worn nappies rather than use the girls toilets. When he went on camp for Grade Six camp, he did Indian arm wrestles with all the boys and of course he beat everybody.  The child joined the cricket team, and refused to line up with girls at school assembly. 

And the Judge has agreed to allow the girl to take oestrogen, and then progesterone - have I pronounced those correctly?

GLASSON:          Yeah, almost.

COMPERE:         And at 16 years old, will be allowed to take testosterone.  And that will have irreversible effects on the child's voice, facial and body hair and promote muscular development and an enlarged clitoris, which will no doubt go on to become a penis I imagine the way these things are worked out, but I'm stumbling in the dark here.  Dr Bill Glasson is National President of the AMA.  Bill Glasson good morning.

GLASSON:          Good morning to you.

COMPERE:         Now Bill Glasson, we don't have access to the Family Court's full reasons for this, I suppose, in terms of the testimony that was given.  But this seems to be an unusual case to say the least.

GLASSON:          Yes, I think it is, obviously given the child's only 13, the court must have had some very strong evidence to support, you know, a decision to allow the 13 year old child to undergo a sex change. As you said, it's initially a hormonal change and then ultimately a surgical intervention to convert the girl into a boy.

I suppose my sort of message, and I think the message from the community here is that we've got to be very cautious.  Obviously all adolescents to some extent question their sexuality to some degree, you know, who they are, why they are, why we're here.  And it's often a confusing time I suppose in the minds of a lot of us. 

And I think for us to - for society to then say well, yes, this 13 year old child can go ahead now and have this sex change, I think it puts a huge amount of responsibility, I suppose, on the child.  And is that child informed enough of the consequence of the action?  And are we actually doing the right thing in the long term?  And I think that's for the community to debate the issue.

COMPERE:         Well, just to fill in a few more of the gaps, again reading from the Age article, she is under the guardianship of a government department, which brought the case to the Court with the support of her aunt and school, after Alex - that's not her real name - started to develop suicidal and self-harm tendencies when she entered puberty.  The Court could not contact her mother. 

And Justice Nicholson said the evidence speaks with one voice as to the distress that Alex is genuinely suffering, in a body which feels alien to him and disgusts him, particularly due to menstruation.  But as head of the AMA, Dr Bill Glasson, you sound like you still have reservations that the court is doing the right thing?

GLASSON:          Well, I mean, I think that obviously the Court has had strong evidence there, I mean I've spoken with a lot of my colleagues who are psychiatrists in this area.  They, I suppose, are just as surprised by the decision. 

I mean if this person was, you know 18, 19, that's - I think the decision's somewhat more easy to make.  But as the child's only 13, I think that all those people listening out there would feel that this is rather an unusual decision to make, given the child probably is not in a position to necessarily make a very well-informed decision. 

And particularly, you haven't got the sort of close parental support and you know, I think that it often sends, we often send mixed messages.  On one hand, last week we were talking about the fact that 13 and 14 year olds can't go and see their GP without their parents accessing their medical records.  Yet on the other hand we're saying right, this 13 year-old child can go have a sex change.  So I think it is rather a mixed message. 

And I think as a society we've got to obviously, I suppose, debate the issue and decide what is right, and particularly in this case, what is right for this particular child.  Now obviously if there has been strong evidence to say this child is suicidal as a consequence of the fact that she doesn't want, or he doesn't want to be in the body of a female, then so be it the decision. 

But I think that we've got to be very careful and cautious when assessing such decisions, particularly if you try to then extrapolate them to the rest of society.  Because as I said, I think many young teenagers often question their sexuality, and I'd hate to think we're sort of making this, I suppose, a norm, for all those young teenagers listening out there.

COMPERE:         Can we ever be confident that we can make a right decision in a case like this?

GLASSON:          I think the answer to that is no.  That I think at the end of the day it's very difficult.  Obviously you've got - no doubt this child has undergone fairly intensive psychological analysis and psychiatric analysis from the point of view of who she thinks she is. 

And for those people that - who really are driven to the fact that they want to go to the extremes of a sex change, that is, you've got to be very driven.  Particularly when you're talking about not only the hormonal changes but also undergoing surgery to enhance a clitoris into a penis or whatever.  So it's a major physical sort of assault on the [indistinct] well. 

And so, as I said, I just think it is an unusual decision.  I think that for us to say this to a 13 year-old, listen we feel that you're, you know, you've come to the end of the tether as far as being suicidal etcetera, and it's in the best interests now to turn you into a male.  As I say, I'm not doubting the Judge, but still I think that society needs to talk about it.

COMPERE:         Thank you, and we are, and we will continue to do so if people want to have a yarn on the soapbox.  Dr Bill Glasson, National President of the AMA, thank you.

Ends