The Korea Herald


Transgender blind spot in hospitalization: NHRCK

Developing guidelines to accomodate diverse circumstances for trans inpatients is difficult, Health Ministry says

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : Nov. 28, 2023 - 18:09

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The Ministry of Health and Welfare rejected a request to devise guidelines of hospitalization for transgender people, said the state human rights watchdog.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) announced on Tuesday that the Health Ministry failed to give clear answers on how the country will accommodate trans patients. Under current medical law, patient rooms are operated separately for men and women. The human rights group pointed out that this puts trans and nonbinary people in a blind spot for medical services.

Previously, the Health Ministry has sent an official letter to an association of Korean hospitals to recommend trans patients stay in single-person hospital rooms. However, such a recommendation lacked consideration, as it imposed a financial burden on them to pay more than other patients, according to the commission.

In response, the ministry said, “There are limitations to establishing guidelines in advance that anticipate the circumstances of all transgender people.”

It also stated that “making uniform recommendations for hospitalizations of transgender inpatients for all health care organizations across the country requires careful consideration based on social consensus.”

The NHRCK had requested the ministry to come up with a guideline earlier in January after receiving a petition from a trans woman who was denied admission to a female ward in 2021.

At the time, the trans woman had received hormone therapy, but was listed as male on her resident registration, as she had not undergone sex change surgery nor corrected her legal gender.

The hospital reportedly said that there were two other trans patients who were hospitalized in the same year, and both of them used a single room at their own expense.

Health Ministry officials had also added that it "comprehensively considers various factors such as whether the court has approved of gender correction, the state of sex reassignment surgery and the social expectation of a transgender to perform the role of their identity.”

However, some trans people say they find such decisions unjust.

Chae, 31, who uses female pronouns, says that the health authorities' recent decision is "understandable but unfair."

"It's hard to have everybody embrace who we are. I wouldn't want to make other female patients feel threatened or uncomfortable. Just like that, I want to be treated in a place where I feel safe," said Chae.

She said that the most ideal way to include everyone would be having an “X ward,” a separate room for transgender individuals.

While it is inevitable that health care organizations classify inpatients according to specific criteria, such as their legal sex at the time of admission, the reality is that there are people who cannot be categorized simply by their legal sex, or whose biological sex assigned at birth does not match their perceived and expressed gender identity, said the human rights agency.

The NHRCK condemned the health authority’s sluggish action, calling “the lack of understanding of the discrimination that trans individuals face” the reason behind its lack of efforts to improve the quality of health care for them.