UK court hears controversial case over trans children’s right to puberty-blocking drugs

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LONDON, Oct 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Transgender children cannot understand the dangers of drugs that block puberty and should therefore only be able to take them if a court approves, a lawyer in a landmark case against the UK’s only gender identity clinic for young people. . The case highlighted the sharp global rise in the number of teenagers seeking to change their gender, with some worried that doctors are prescribing the drugs without due process and others worried about access to the drugs they deem vital.

Puberty blockers can make it more likely that children will opt for cross-sex hormone therapy later in life, said Jeremy Hyam, a lawyer for Keira Bell, 23, who received the drugs when she was a 16-year-old patient at the London clinic.

The case at the Royal Courts of Justice against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust has become a lightning rod for concerns over an almost 30-fold increase in the number of children referred to the clinic over the past decade, to 2 560 last year.

“Because children are so young and lack relevant life experiences…they just can’t make informed decisions about loss of sexual function, ability to orgasm,” Hyam told the court.

“This vulnerable class of children cannot give informed consent to hormone-blocking treatment and…it requires court supervision,” he said.

The clinic said it would not comment on the case before the judgment, defending its “safe and caring service that puts the interests of its patients and their families first”.

Clinic lawyer Fenella Morris said Hyam’s appeal for a court order was a “radical proposal” that departs from existing law allowing people under the age of 16 to consent to medical treatment.

She said discussions about patients’ future sexual relationships were “not spared” by clinicians.

According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a global body of doctors who specialize in treating trans people, puberty blockers can avoid the negative mental impact of gender dysphoria during puberty.

He described them as “fully reversible”, but acknowledged concerns about a possible impact on bone development and height.

A study of 20,619 trans adults published in January found that those who had taken puberty blockers were less likely to have a history of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts in their mid-30s.

Critics say their long-term impact is unknown.

Trans advocates said the case threatens a host of children’s rights to determine their own health care, including contraception or abortions.

“This is a case of importance that cannot be overstated,” said Lui Asquith, legal director of Mermaids, an advocacy group that supports trans children and their families.

Under some laws proposed by US states, doctors could be prohibited from prescribing puberty blockers to children. Last year, Mexican authorities said children should be allowed to take medicine. (Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org)

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