On top of having to face a myriad of challenges in terms of access to adequate healthcare, transgenders are once again in the spotlight. Transgender youths now have the option to preserve their fertility before starting hormone treatment or sex change surgery. In the UK, dozens of “trans girls” (those born male wanting to become female) as young as 12 have been reported to have their sperms saved at National Health Service (NHS) clinics so that they can start their own family in future.

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a medical condition where an individual experiences discomfort or distress due to a mismatch between their biological sex and the gender they identify with. It is synonymous with other terms such as transgenderism, gender identity disorder (GID) or gender incongruence.

The type of treatment available varies for people with gender dysphoria. For some people, counselling and support groups would suffice. Others may opt for more extensive treatments such as hormone therapy and surgery. However, treatments such as hormone therapy among transgenders have been found to reduce fertility which may jeopardise their chances of ever having biological children. NHS clinics offering the option of freezing sperms or eggs prior to hormone treatment gives hope to transgender youths who wish to have babies after changing sex.

Fertility preservation: Escalating costs and shrinking funds

According to Mail Online, fertility treatments being offered to transgender teenagers at NHS clinics are believed to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. This figure is expected to rise as public awareness on gender dysphoria continues to increase. A single egg-freezing cycle amounts to GBP4,000 whereas sperm preservation costs about GBP400. It would cost an additional GBP300 per year to keep the eggs or sperm frozen until they can be used at a later date.

The exorbitant costs associated with fertility treatment for transgender teenagers have attracted fierce criticism in the UK, especially because it involves taxpayers’ money. The former chairman of the ethics committee of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, commented that the NHS should focus on treating sick people and not “to aid people’s various wishes about what they want to do with their bodies or their futures.” There were further concerns on the lack of funding for other health services such as cataract surgery and hip replacements which are deemed to be more important.

The right to start a family

Despite the controversies surrounding this issue, Professor Gary Butler, the head clinician for the only NHS service for transgender youths in the UK, asserts that national guidelines should be established in order to make fertility treatments accessible for transgenders.

“If they want to become parents and raise a family the science and medicine is there. It’s the right of the individual to be able to do that,” he added.

Dozens of Professor Gary’s patients who planned to have male-to-female gender reassignment surgery have opted to have their sperms saved in advance. They started receiving treatment at the Gender Identity Development (GID) NHS clinic at London’s University College Hospital after undergoing intensive psychological assessments. MIMS

Read more:
Challenges of transgender people in healthcare
Treating transgender patients: Are medical professionals being too “conservative”?
LGBT community faces stigma and healthcare restrictions globally