from Clinical/Therapeutic Issues
McHugh's remarks were published in the November, 2004, issue of First Things. Writing in "Surgical Sex," the professor notes that Johns Hopkins University was a pioneer in SRS beginning in the early 1970s. The prevailing theory at the time was that while sex was genetically determined at birth, the concept of gender was culturally shaped and malleable and that being female or male were interchangeable.
Dr. McHugh became psychiatrist-in-chief at the university in 1975 and decided that it would be useful to have follow-up studies on individuals who had undergone SRS at the facility. He wanted to test the claim that men who had undergone SRS had found a resolution for their general psychological problems and wanted to see if male infants with ambiguous genitalia who were raised as girls could easily settle into the female identity chosen for them by the surgeons.
To accomplish these two goals, he encouraged a fellow psychiatrist, Jon Meyer, to follow up on those having sex change operations. He found that most of the patients were content and only a few regretted it, but their psychological condition was little changed.
A study of similar subjects at Clark Institute in Toronto had found that many of these men described themselves as lesbians to psychiatrists because they were sexually attracted to women. "... I concluded that to provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people was to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it," said McHugh.
Another psychiatrist, William G. Reiner, conducted follow-up studies on boys who were raised as girls. Reiner found that these re-engineered males were almost universally uncomfortable with the female role assigned them and many wished to revert to male status once they discovered the truth about themselves. Reiner's findings were published in the January 22, 2004 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. McHugh says that his research led Johns Hopkins to stop offering SRS for its patients, "... much, I'm glad to say, to the relief of several of our plastic surgeons who had previously been commandeered to carry out the procedures." He observes: "Having looked at the Reiner and Meyer studies, we in the Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Department eventually concluded that human sexual identity is mostly built into our constitution by the genes we inherit and the embryogenesis we undergo."
McHugh says "I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. ... We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure, and ultimately prevent it."
He urges that psychiatrists discourage individuals from seeking sexual reassignment surgery.