Ottawa families welcome quicker referrals for sex-reassignment surgery
Published Monday, March 14, 2016 5:32PM EDT Last Updated Monday, March 14, 2016 6:47PM EDT
The Ontario government has opened the door to faster referrals for sex re-assignment surgery. Families of transgender children in Ottawa are applauding the move saying it will give their children choices down the road should they decide on surgery.
Up until recently, anyone considering sex-reassignment surgery would have to wait years just for a referral. But that changed as of March 1 and for one Ottawa girl, it means the doctors who know her best in her own city can help her make that life-changing decision.
Warner Schaettgen is a regular at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) but she's not sick. Quite the opposite; the 8-year-old is a healthy little girl who just happens to have been born a boy.
“She felt like a girl since day one,” says Warner’s mother Melissa, “she has been telling us since she was 2 years old.”
Parents Melissa and Elmar have supported their child throughout this difficult journey, knowing there are many more difficult bumps ahead, including the possibility of surgery to allow her to live her true sexual identity.
“She lives her life now every day feeling like parts of her body don't belong on her,” explains Melissa, “She will live like that and there’s no other option as a child, but once she hits her adult years, possibly that can be rectified.”
It's something Warner already thinks about, sex reassignment or gender confirmation surgery.
“(The possibility of surgery in the future) made me really excited,” says Warner, “and makes me feel more confident about my life.”
Until a couple of weeks ago, the only place to get a referral for sex re-assignment surgery was at the adult Gender Identity Clinic at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The wait time for that referral was about 2 years. Now, qualified health professionals like Warner's doctor at CHEO will be able to refer her, when she's old enough, of course.
“People have been waiting a long time for this,” explains Dr. Stephen Feder, with CHEO’s Diversity Clinic for Children and Youth.
Dr. Feder says this will ease the two-year wait list for referrals. It won’t, however, address the fact that no Ontario hospital does genital surgery; patients will still have to travel to Montreal. The Ontario government is promising an additional $2 million dollars, though, some of which would be used to help fund chest surgery at the Women’s College Hospital.
“That's something I’ve worried about,” says Dr. Feder, of the potential backlog of surgeries in Montreal. “What will change probably is that more surgeons will probably be performing top surgery and hysterectomies whereas the more difficult genital surgery will still be focused in Montreal,” he says.
For Warner, those kinds of decisions are years away; she figures maybe by the time she's 25, when she is physically and psychologically ready.
“It doesn’t scare me,” says Warner, of the possibility of sex reassignment surgery, “well, kinda but not really.”
As for what age these surgeries can take place, Ontario follows strict guidelines set out by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Any genital surgery won't happen before age18.