Sex Reassignment Surgery and Enhancement

J Med Philos. 2017 Feb;42(1):86-102. doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhw036. Epub 2016 Dec 26.


Sex reassignment surgery is a therapy for gender dysphoria (gender identity disorder) standardly provided only upon a psychiatric authorization. Transgender scholars criticize this practice as unjustified medicalization and stigmatization of transsexual people. By demanding that sex reassignment surgery is not classified as therapy, they imply it should be classified as some kind of a biomedical enhancement. It is argued in this article that this reclassification is empirically and morally implausible because sex reassignment surgery is incompatible with two major views of enhancement. It is incompatible with the nontherapeutic view because it does not improve or augment, above average, any physical or mental trait or function. It is incompatible with the welfarist view because this view, contrary to the transgender scholars's demands, is compelled to retain the standard practice of providing sex reassignment surgery in order to ensure the optimal balance between its availability, beneficence, and possible harmfulness.

Keywords: enhancement; medicalization; sex reassignment surgery; therapy; well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Enhancement / ethics
  • Gender Dysphoria / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Medicalization / ethics
  • Sex Reassignment Surgery / ethics*