A clinic in the United Kingdom has been the subject of controversy amid accusations that it rushes minors with gender dysphoria into gender transition medical procedures without adequate screening. Now, a cabinet minister has indicated that the government might ban such treatments for minors altogether.
Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, told a parliamentary committee that the Conservative government would propose amendments to the nation’s Gender Recognition Act. The Act, first adopted in 2004, specifies the steps a person must take in order to change one’s legally recognized gender. However, instead of loosening the requirements, as transgender activists had urged, the government appears poised to tighten them.
Truss said that one of three priorities would be:
. . . making sure that the under 18s are protected from decisions that they could make, that are irreversible in the future.
I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.
Truss did not provide further details. But since relatively few minors undergo actual gender reassignment surgery, observers assume that the “irreversible decisions” the government is concerned about include the use of puberty-blocking hormones in young adolescents and cross-sex hormones in older teens.
In the U.S., efforts to ban such procedures for minors stalled this year in the South Dakota legislature after businesses and Gov. Kristi Noem expressed concern about the bill. In Alabama, a bill was advancing toward passage until the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the state’s legislative session.
Under Britain’s system of socialized medicine, known as the National Health Service (NHS), a limited number of medical clinics provide gender reassignment services. The only clinic serving minors is the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, with offices in London and Leeds.
After a three-year trial, the GIDS decided in 2014 to significantly expand its services to minors—including giving puberty blockers to children as young as nine. Since then, GIDS has seen a considerable increase in the number of children referred to them. But the clinic is also facing heightened criticism.
An Oxford professor, Dr. Michael Biggs, says that the clinic has downplayed the negative health effects of puberty blockers. Britain’s Sky News reported late in 2019 that as many as 35 psychologists have resigned from the GIDS over the last three years, with at least a half dozen speaking out against its practices—but anonymously, for fear of retaliation.
However, one retired psychotherapist, Marcus Evans, did speak out publicly after resigning from Tavistock’s Board of Governors. Evans warned:
When doctors always give patients what they want (or think they want), the fallout can be disastrous, as we have seen with the opioid crisis. And there is every possibility that the inappropriate medical treatment of children with gender dysphoria may follow a similar path.
. . . Tavistock officials . . . [seem to] have bought into the idea that transition is a goal unto itself, separate from the wellbeing of individual children, who now are being used as pawns in an ideological campaign.
This is the opposite of responsible and caring therapeutic work, which is based on the need to re-establish respectful but loving bonds between mind and body.
Victoria Gillick, a critic of the GIDS, predicted in 2014:
There will, in the future, be an awful lot of doctors who will be sued by older men and women for having done something to them before they were of an age to understand what the significance of it was.
That prediction came true this year with the filing of a lawsuit against the clinic. Originally filed by psychiatric nurse Susan Evans (wife of Marcus Evans) and the unidentified mother of a 15-year-old autistic girl awaiting treatment at the clinic, the suit has been joined by a 23-year-old woman, Keira Bell. She received hormone treatment at the clinic as a teenager but has now “de-transitioned” to reclaim her biological identity as a female. Bell declared:
I have become a claimant in this case because I do not believe that children and young people can consent to the use of powerful and experimental hormone drugs like I did.
I believe that the current affirmative system put in place by the Tavistock is inadequate as it does not allow for exploration of these gender dysphoric feelings, nor does it seek to find the underlying causes of this condition.
Hormone-changing drugs and surgery does not work for everyone and it certainly should not be offered to someone under the age of 18 when they are emotionally and mentally vulnerable.
The treatment urgently needs to change so that it does not put young people, like me, on a torturous and unnecessary path that is permanent and life-changing.
The U.K. government appears to agree. When state legislators in the U.S. are able to convene again, they would be wise to follow the British example and prohibit “torturous and unnecessary” gender transition medical procedures for minors.