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Argentina makes sex-change surgery a legal right

Associated Press Modified: May 9, 2012 at 10:01 pm •  Published: May 9, 2012
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Adults who want sex-change surgery or hormone therapy in Argentina will be able to get it as part of their public or private health care plans under a gender rights law approved Wednesday.

The measure also gives people the right to specify how their gender is listed at the civil registry when their physical characteristics don't match how they see themselves.

Senators approved the Gender Identity law by a vote of 55-0, with one abstention and more than a dozen senators declaring themselves absent — the same margin that approved a "death with dignity" law earlier in the day.

President Cristina Fernandez threw her support behind the law and is expected to sign it. She has often said how proud she is that Argentina became Latin America's first nation to legalize gay marriage two years ago, enabling thousands of same-sex couples to wed and enjoy the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples.

For many, gender rights were the next step.

Any adult will now be able to officially change his or her gender, image and birth name without having to get approval from doctors or judges — and without having to undergo physical changes beforehand, as many U.S. jurisdictions require.

"It's saying you can change your gender legally without having to change your body at all. That's unheard of," said Katrina Karkazis, a Stanford University medical anthropologist and bioethicst who wrote a book, "Fixing Sex," about the medical and legal treatment of people whose physical characteristics don't fully match their gender identity.

"There's a whole set of medical criteria that people have to meet to change their gender in the U.S., and meanwhile this gives the individual an extraordinary amount of authority for how they want to live. It's really incredible," she said.

When Argentines want to change their bodies, health care companies will have to provide them with surgery or hormone therapy on demand. Such treatments will be included in the "Obligatory Medical Plan," which means both private and public providers will not be able to charge extra for the services.

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