sex-related medical laws

Illustration by Anastasiia Zubareva

UAE and Lebanon Announce New Sex-Related Medical Laws

The new Medical Liability Law was recently enacted in the UAE, legalizing sex correction operations.

Oct 1, 2016

The new Medical Liability Law was recently enacted in the UAE, legalizing sex correction operations. The Medical Liability Law allows for sex correction operations, not sex change operations, as many thought was the case after a recent lawsuit was filed in Abu Dhabi Court. The UAE’s new law comes after Lebanon implemented a more extreme policy this past year; Lebanon’s law allows people to choose their identities based on how they view themselves both physically and psychologically.
Under the new UAE law, sex correction is “the medical intervention to correct the sex of a person who suffers sexual obscurity, as it is unclear whether the person is male or female, and whose physical features do not match the physiological, biological and genetic characteristics,” according to Dr. Amin Al Amiri, an assistant undersecretary for public policy and licensing at the Ministry of Health and Prevention. Dr. Al Amiri also said that sex correction is considered to be in line with Sharia law, according to the fatwa issued by the General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments earlier this year.
There is a specific stipulated group of people eligible for sex correction surgery under the new law. The law allows operations for people possessing certain ambiguous sex-related features and gender dysphoria, a condition where someone’s emotional, physical and gender identity is opposite to one’s biological sex. According to Gulf News, the UAE law states, “[The] surgical procedure [or procedures] by which a transgender person’s physical appearance and function of their existing sexual characteristics are altered to resemble that of their identified gender is permitted if it is part of a treatment for gender dysphoria in transgender people, as advised by a medical commission to be set up for this purpose.”
Misunderstandings surrounding the new law were widespread in the UAE during the week of Sept. 25. On Sept. 21, The National published an article titled New UAE Law Allows Gender Reassignment Surgery, leading to the misconception that sex change operations were now legalized in the UAE. The UAE law does not allow people to change their sex for psychological considerations. The National published another article, New UAE Law Does Not Legalise Sex Change, on Sept. 25, in order to resolve the confusion.
An Emirati woman wishing to have her body fully reflect her gender was the first to be approved by court for gender reassignment surgery under the new law. This change in law may also allow people in the future to have a procedure done with only the approval of medical officials, as opposed to suing for the right to undergo the surgery.
Lebanon, on the other hand, is currently the most liberal in the region in terms of gender rights, following a recent court decision that acknowledged the psychological considerations of a transgender person. The ruling recognized that a person may not emotionally identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Lebanon’s decision allowing psychological considerations came after a case was brought before the Lebanese courts this past year. A Lebanese man applied for a sex change and was denied his request under a first degree court. In January, he took his case to the Court of Appeals, Lebanon’s tertiary court, and was granted the right to change his sex, the right to medical treatment and rights to privacy. Tarek Zeidan, a spokesperson of the LGBT advocacy group Helem, told Al Jazeera that this ruling meant that people whose cases are “judged in a lower court can now go back to this ruling as a precedent.” The Court of Appeals’ Judge Janet Hanna’s decision to allow the procedure has legalized it for the country.
Some transgender activists saw Lebanon’s court ruling as a watershed moment for transgender rights in the region. In conversation with Al Jazeera, Youmna Makhlouf, an attorney at Lebanese non-profit advocacy group Legal Agenda, said, “After this ruling from a court of appeal, maybe things can evolve.”
Lina Elmusa is a staff writer. Email her at
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