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Thailand looks to limit sex change surgery

by Jane Fugal
Friday Nov 27, 2009
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BANGKOK (AP) - Thailand has issued rules making sex change surgery more difficult - including a requirement that potential candidates cross-dress for a year - over fears that some patients are rushing into the operation, a medical association said Thursday.

Transsexuals and transgender men are a common sight in Thailand, appearing on soap operas and working at all levels of Bangkok society, from department store cosmetics counters and popular restaurants to corporate offices and red-light districts. A national transgender beauty pageant draws thousands to the beachside town of Pattaya every year.

But over the past two years, a rash of castrations, especially among young men, has alarmed the medical establishment and prompted the new rules.

Dr. Sampandh Komrit of the Medical Council of Thailand said the new rules went into effect Wednesday and require a person to wait a year after deciding on the surgery. The applicants must be over 18 and are required to dress in women’s clothing for the year before surgery. It also requires a mental evaluation before the surgery and continued follow-up visits with a psychiatrist after getting the sex change.

"This is a very important decision in their life," Sampandh said. "After the operation, there is no way to fix it."

Last year, Thailand’s Health Ministry ordered hospitals and medical clinics to temporarily stop performing non-medical castrations. The ministry said that the procedure needed stricter monitoring.

Sampandh said he understood the motivation for sex change surgery, adding that he has met many men who insist they would be happier being a woman. But he said the new regulations give them the opportunity to think through their decision.

"This is not a small thing, not like going shopping. Especially the teenagers, think carefully. Don’t do it because your friend did it," Sampandh said.

Patients with a long history as cross-dressers would be exempt from the one-year waiting period, he said.

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