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US judge OKs gender surgery opposed by 48-year-old’s parents

Christine Kitzler, a transgender woman from Myrtle Beach, S.C., speaks with reporters, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Doylestown, Pa.  .
Christine Kitzler, a transgender woman from Myrtle Beach, S.C., speaks with reporters, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Doylestown, Pa. . AP Photo/Michael R. Sisak

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. — A judge on Wednesday cleared the way for a 48-year-old transgender woman to undergo gender-reassignment surgery, rejecting an effort by her parents to have the operation blocked.

Christine Kitzler’s parents said she was incompetent and needed to have a guardian appointed, but Judge C. Theodore Fritsch Jr. said they failed to provide clear and convincing evidence of that. He also rejected their request for an independent medical exam.

“I’m so happy,” Kitzler whispered after the ruling.

READ MORE: Health care system can often be a challenge for transgender patients

The surgery originally been scheduled for Tuesday but was halted when the parents went to court. Kitzler’s lawyers were trying to arrange to have it done Wednesday night.

“The procedure is barbaric and they want to do it tonight. Why the rush? They should be ashamed of themselves,” said her father, Klaus Kitzler.

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Responded Christine Kitzler: “It’s barbaric to keep me this way, not to take this risk.”

Risk factors cited by her father – including complications from her HIV and hepatitis C diagnoses – were worth facing to have her body match the gender she’s identified with since growing up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, she said during a break in the emergency hearing.

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In ruling in her favor, the judge said he recognized she had suffered from depression and substance abuse, but noted she had testified to being sober for three years and had demonstrated an ability to understand her decisions.

Klaus and and his wife, Ingrid Kitzler, had argued she was not competent to make an informed decision because of the depression and a childhood learning disorder. They wanted a temporary guardian named; her lawyers said they feared the long-range goal was a permanent guardianship.

“I might die from this. But it’s worth dying,” Christine Kitzler said. “I would rather die than live the way I was and return to my bad addictions, like alcohol, because I can’t do it and I won’t do it.”

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On the witness stand, Klaus Kitzler underscored his concern for his child’s health. He said he would accept her surgery if an independent psychiatrist deemed her fit to make the decision.

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READ MORE: B.C. group wants gender removed from birth certificates in Canada

“I accept it, but I want to stop it,” Kitzler told the judge. “I would love to have a son back who goes to church with us on Sunday mornings.”

Christine Kitzler, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has already been through 16 months of pre-operative preparation, including a 24-hour fast before Tuesday’s scheduled surgery, and has received clearances from mental health professionals that she is knowingly and willingly undergoing gender reassignment, her doctor said.

Her lawyer, Angela Giampolo, said she had never seen competency invoked to block a gender-reassignment surgery.

“This isn’t a competency hearing. This isn’t a guardianship hearing. It’s a difference of opinion,” the prominent Philadelphia gay-and-transgender-rights lawyer said.

Giampolo said Kitzler’s parents were trying to prevent her from living an authentic life.

“They have a daughter. They don’t have a son,” Christine Kitzler said. “I’ll have the parts. I am a woman.”