London – Women having sex changes on Britain’s NHS are being given free fertility treatment so they can have babies after they become men.
At least three British men who were born female are “on the brink” of becoming parents using IVF techniques, according to a top doctor.
And dozens more are now having their eggs frozen at NHS clinics before undergoing surgery or hormone therapy to switch sex.
The controversial treatment means that a British transgender man could soon become a parent – all funded by the taxpayer.
In rare circumstances, the man could become pregnant and give birth, although the vast majority of cases would involve implanting an embryo into a surrogate mother, often the man’s partner.
Critics said cash-strapped health authorities should not be spending up to £34 000 (about R640 000) per patient to help them change sex and have children when they are rationing basic services such as cataract operations, hip replacements and even hearing aids. Tory MP Peter Bone said: “I am not sure why the taxpayer should be funding this. I just sometimes ask if the NHS is getting its priorities right.”
But one of Britain’s leading sex change doctors defended the practice, saying patients undergoing gender reassignment surgery had as much right to preserve their fertility as young people with cancer who freeze their eggs or sperm before having chemotherapy.
Dr James Barrett, of the NHS Gender Identity Clinic in West London, said three of his patients who have transitioned from women to men were close to becoming parents. He added that, in the last year, he had asked GPs to refer about 50 of his female-to-male patients to have eggs frozen, and about 100 of his male-to-female patients to have their sperm frozen.
“As a matter of principle, anybody who loses their fertility as a result of standard NHS treatment should be able to preserve their fertility,” he argued.
“Why are people with cancer particularly magic and get this [NHS fertility treatment], and other people don’t? Transgender patients want to live like normal people. They want what everybody else gets as a matter of course.”
IVF services are already stretched in the NHS, with some areas such as parts of Essex, denying such treatment to infertile couples.
One transgender candidate for the treatment is 17-year-old Riley Middlemore, born Rebecca, who wants to freeze eggs before transitioning to a man, so in the future – using donor sperm – his girlfriend would be able to become a surrogate and give birth to their child. Last night, his mother Carrie said: “He’s very passionate about having his own children, but he wants his girlfriend to have the children – he doesn’t want to give birth.”
In 2008, American Thomas Beatie shocked the world by giving birth to a daughter, Susan, after changing gender. Mr Beatie went on to bear two other children using donor sperm, because his wife had undergone a hysterectomy while he had kept his womb.
But Dr Barrett said that in most cases the child would be born with a surrogate and the role of the transgender man who provided the eggs “would be that of father”.
But Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said the procedure risked upsetting “the natural order” and said children would be “confused by not knowing if the parent is a father or a mother”.
He added: “Any child is best brought up by knowing the biological father and biological mother.”
But Dr Barrett said there was no evidence transgender people made worse parents than others, adding: “From adoption studies, they seem to be doing fine.”
No female to male transgender patient has yet completed this process in Britain, but Dr Barrett said: “There may be some who are on the brink of doing so,” indicating there were three people in this position.
He told his transgender patients who were freezing their eggs that they had a “small, but not zero chance of their own DNA being in some baby in the future” because fertility treatment was often unsuccessful. But he said egg freezing was about ‘preserving options’
Official figures show a success rate of just one baby for every 29 embryos created from frozen eggs.
About 15 000 people were referred to UK gender identity clinics last year, and since 2004, transgender people have been able to obtain a new birth certificate under their altered gender.
Mail On Sunday