At least we have compassion for poor John Smith

February 07, 1996|By Mona Charen

WASHINGTON -- The Women's Quarterly, a publication of the Independent Women's Forum, can be counted upon to unearth examples of the kind of absurdity we accept these days without blinking.

In the winter issue, Deborah Weiss, formerly an attorney with the Department of Social Services in New York, tells a story:

''I was prosecuting a paternity case on behalf of the welfare department to determine who was the father of an illegitimate child. The department was seeking child support. The court officer called in 'John Smith.' A beautiful, big-busted woman approached the stand. She had long blond hair and smooth skin, and was wearing a low-cut blouse.

'' 'Are you John Smith?' the court officer asked.

'' 'Yes.'

''I cleared my throat and began my case: 'Are you the father of this child?'

'' 'Yes,' John Smith stated in a manly voice. 'I am.'

''It was business as usual in Manhattan's Family Court.''

Upon further questioning, John Smith explained that ''she'' was undergoing a sex change. She'd had the required psychotherapy, had taken the injections and was awaiting only a final bout of surgery to make her a woman.

Ms. Weiss writes, ''We proceeded to the matter of child support. 'Mr. Smith,' I asked, 'can you contribute $25 per month to assist the welfare department in supporting your child?'

'' 'I can't.'

''A token gesture''

'' 'But, Mr. Smith,' I said, 'twenty-five dollars per month is . . . just a token gesture really. Besides, how can you say you don't have any money for child support when you are paying for a transsexual operation?'

'' 'Oh no,' Smith answered with surprise. 'I'm receiving this operation for free.'

'' 'For free? You found a doctor to work for free?'

'' 'No, no,' Smith explained. 'Medicaid is paying for it.' ''

Sure enough, it turns out that in New York, Medicaid does indeed pay for transsexual operations (and the related costs including drugs and psychotherapy) when such a change is considered ''medically necessary.'' Ms. Weiss' colleagues were quite stern with her for expressing skepticism. A supervisor scolded her for being so ''judgmental.''

vTC Until quite recently, when adverse publicity put a stop to the practice, it was also Medicaid's policy to pay for fertility treatments for would-be unwed mothers. Having had some experience with infertility myself, I know how much such therapy costs -- between $8,000 and $11,000 for a single attempt at in-vitro fertilization, for example. Most insurance companies do not provide coverage for it at all, and those that do rarely cover more than two or three attempts.

So a working married couple in New York that experiences infertility is unlikely to be able to afford medical assistance. But that couple is (or was, until recently) taxed to provide such services to women who will bring more illegitimate children into the world. All of this travels under the name of compassion toward the poor.

Republicans in Washington, recognizing not just the corrupting influence of such largess but the mathematical certainty that these programs will bankrupt the country within a generation, attempted not to cut but to slow the rate of growth of spending on Medicare and Medicaid, and were thwarted by a president waving the standard of ''compassion.''

In France, politicians surrendered for years to the electorate's desire for more and more services from government. Now, the government is truly broke and must make real cuts, not just reductions in the rate of increase. The results? General strikes and violence in the streets.

Are we heading down that road, just so we can provide sex-change operations to the poor for free?


Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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