Prior to Friday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) refused to pay for individuals’ sex-change operations through Medicare. The department held that the surgeries were not medically necessary and thus should not be sponsored by the federal government.
However, an HHS review board reversed this position last Friday, saying sex reassignment surgeries—which can cost as much as $50,000—are legitimate medical operations and should be funded by Medicare. Supporters of “transgender rights” described the ruling as a landmark decision which struck down an outdated ban.
“[The sex change surgery ban] was based on information from 1981,” Leslie Cooper, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told MSNBC. “As the decision of the board explained, the science has evolved significantly since 1981. The scientific consensus among the medical community is that this treatment is medically necessary for people with gender dysphoria.”
An administrative challenge from Denee Mallon led to the HHS ruling. Mallon, a 74-year-old Army veteran in Albuquerque, New Mexico, considers himself a woman and demanded that the government fund his sex change operation.
“When I learned that Medicare denies the essential care I need, I remember saying, ‘This is not right. They’re relying on these archaic reasons to deny me the care my doctor agrees I need?’ I knew I had to do something to challenge that,” Mallon wrote in an email to the Associated Press.
“Sometimes I am asked, ‘Aren’t I too old to have surgery?’” Mallon continued. “My answer is, ‘How old is too old?’ When people ask if I am too old, it feels like they are implying that it’s a ‘waste of money’ to operate at my age. But I could have an active life ahead of me for another 20 years. And I want to spend those years in congruence and not distress.”
Mallon says he is “relieved” by Friday’s ruling.
“This decision means so much to me and to many other transgender people,” he said in a statement. “I am relieved to know that my doctor and I can now address my medical needs, just as other patients and doctors do.”
Meanwhile, many Bible-believing Christians believe that a person’s sexuality is ultimately assigned by God and determined at birth. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, articulated this position in a column published last year.
“The transgender question means that conservative Christian congregations such as mine must teach what’s been handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church,” Moore wrote. “A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities then is a revolt against God’s lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God had embedded in the creation.”
“Our transgendered neighbors will disagree with us, of course, that discipleship means an acceptance of who we are as men and women, and that our selves are not separate from our bodies,” Moore continued. “We should expect such disagreements. But we believe we can no more [to] surgically alter our gospel than we can surgically alter our gender.”
“We must conclude that all of us are called to repentance, and part of what repentance means is to receive the gender with which God created us, even when that’s difficult,” Moore concluded.