Sex-swap needs hard to fulfil

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2001, 12:00am

An increasing number of people are seeking sex-change operations in China, but the restrictions patients must surmount in a conservative country are intense.

While sex-change operations are performed in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, according to Shanghai No 9 People's Hospital physician Dr Sun Boshan, they only accept a small minority of the people who seek their help.

'It's very difficult for a prospective patient to get approval for surgery. They must get a certificate of approval from the police, the parents must consent, and numerous doctors must agree before we can proceed,' Dr Sun said.

A police officer at the Hongqiao Road Public Security Bureau in Shanghai said that potential patients had to present police with a written petition detailing their reasons for wanting to change their sex. Intensive background checks are then conducted to ensure that applicants are not trying to alter their appearance to evade the law.

'We have performed a few male-to-female and female-to-male sex-change operations. But these are only in cases where, for example, an individual looks and appears in every way like a woman, but happens to have male sex organs,' said a doctor from Beijing Hospital.

Both doctors agreed that male-to-female operations are less complicated and time consuming than female-to-male, given the difficulty of constructing artificial male sex organs. Patients must remain in the hospital for about three months to recover.

The doctors said the procedures cost tens of thousands of yuan, but declined to be more specific as each patient was different and had unique surgical requirements.

Despite the conservatism towards sex-change operations in China, doctors have performed some bizarre operations.

In 1992, Beijing's No 3 Hospital performed the world's first sex-swap operation, where doctors exchanged the testicles and ovaries of a 22-year-old woman and a 30-year-old man. The woman reportedly thought being a man would benefit her career.

A year later, Beijing's prestigious No 301 Hospital reportedly performed female-to-male sex change operations on three sisters from Henan province. The youngest was 14 years old.

The Ministry of Public Health was unwilling to provide statistics on how many procedures have been performed in China.