Rhiannon O’Donnabhain vs. U.S. Internal Revenue

February 6, 2010

On February 2, 2010, the U.S. Tax Court issued an important decision in O’Donnabhain v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, ruling for the first time that treatment for gender identity disorder qualifies as medical care under the Internal Revenue Code, and is therefore deductible. [Via GLAD]

In 2002, Rhiannon O’Donnabhain deducted the costs of her hormones, genital surgery and breast augmentation from her federal taxes. The IRS said no in 2005, and she took the case to tax court in 2007. Earlier this week, the court ruled 6-4 in her favour – mostly. They didn’t allow her to deduct her breast augmentation because the evidence apparently showed that her breasts had developed as a result of hormone therapy. (Which might suggest that, if she hadn’t had breast development from hormones, then the breast augmentation deduction might actually have been allowed).

The ruling is available to download here (direct link to PDF, 139pp) and perhaps one of the most interesting parts is in footnote 2 on p63, where the court appears to open the door to the possibility of deducting the costs of FFS from federal taxes:

Respondent also argues that the various surgical procedures petitioner underwent to feminize her facial features in 2000 and 2005 demonstrate a propensity for cosmetic surgery that is relevant in assessing whether petitioner’s hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery were undertaken for the purpose of improving petitioner’s appearance rather than treating a disease.

We disagree. The deductibility of petitioner’s facial surgery, undertaken in years other than the year in issue, is not at issue in this case. However, there is substantial evidence that such surgery may have served the same therapeutic purposes as (genital) sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy; namely, effecting a female appearance in a genetic male. Both Ms. Ellaborn and Dr. Meltzer testified that petitioner had masculine facial features which interfered with her passing as female. The expert testimony confirmed that passing as female is important to the mental health of a male GID sufferer, and the Benjamin standards contemplate surgery to feminize facial features as part of sex reassignment for a male GID sufferer. Thus, we conclude that the facial surgery does not suggest, as respondent contends, that petitioner had a propensity for conventional cosmetic surgery.

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Crossposted at Questioning Transphobia

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