Are sex changes an "overriding need'?

Three transsexuals are seeking judicial review of a health authority's refusal to fund their sex change operations, reports Roger Pearson.

The High Court is to investigate whether three transsexuals are entitled to have their sex-change operations funded by a local health authority.

North West Lancashire Health Authority refused to fund the operations, but now Mr Justice Keene has given the three leave to seek judicial review of the health authority's stance.

And, after being told by Stephanie Harrison, counsel for the three, that they were suffering severe psychological distress, the judge ordered that the applications should come on as a matter of urgency.

For the health authority, counsel Gerard Clarke opposed the grant of leave, arguing that the authority had acted within its powers and that the courts should be slow to intervene in cases when clinical judgements have been made about allocation of what he called "precious healthcare resources".

However, in granting leave Mr Justice Keene said he was satisfied the cases of the three were arguable.

He said he was granting leave principally on the policy argument and in terms of the alleged inflexibility of the health authority's policy.

The three who are seeking operations, Miss AY, 21, Miss DY and Miss GY who are both 50, claim that they are females trapped in male bodies.

They have already begun hormone treatment and now live their lives as women, but want the final surgery, which they say will allow them to live more fully as women. However, they say they cannot afford the treatment privately. Costs can be as high as £110 an hour.

Making the application, Harrison told the judge that they were refused gender re-assignment surgery on the basis of a health authority policy of funding such operations only in cases of "overriding need". And they have ruled that none of the three meet this need.

Harrison said that all three suffer severe psychological distress having found themselves in a position of having already undertaken some form of treatment. One of them has already had three bouts of surgery.

If these get to the final hearing then they will be the first to do so and it is hoped they will result in important guidelines in respect of the stance that health authorities can adopt towards such matters.