Doctors urge ministers over youth gender treatments

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New submission to health ministers raises alternatives

Medical practitioners are urging state and federal health ministers to exercise deep caution on irreversible treatments for youth reporting gender dysphoria.

Dr John Whitehall, a professor of paediatrics and child health, said the marked rise in recent years in children being brought to children’s hospitals with gender confusion “can be described as an epidemic”.

He has submitted an alternative model of care for gender-confused minors to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and members of the Australian Health Minister’s Advisory Council ahead of a meeting next week to discuss the issue. The Council is made up of Mr Hunt and state health ministers.

Dr Whitehall told The Catholic Weekly that he and other signatories to his seven-page submission offer a conservative model “that has been shown to work” and involves counselling, psychiatric treatment and the addressing of associated co-morbidities such as anxiety or depression.

They also call on Minister Hunt to investigate the rise in cases across the country, and the claims and evidence for the use of puberty blockers and other medical interventions provided at gender clinics.

“the vast majority of these children will identify with their natural chromosomes as they come through puberty”

“For doctors, the first issue is the Hippocratic principal of ‘Do no harm’ and while there is no evidence for effect there is evidence for harm [in the affirmative medical pathway],” Dr Whitehall said.

“Research shows that the vast majority of these children will identify with their natural chromosomes as they come through puberty. We’re just saying have confidence in those statistics and help the child to come through it.”

Dr Eamonn Mathieson of the Australian Catholic Medical Association which supports Dr Whitehall’s submission said that there also needs to be a strong response from the Church on the issue. “It’s not just about the general effects on children and their families,” he said.

“Once this becomes entrenched in law the implications are enormous for Catholic schools, health care, hospitals and doctors and the Church in general because it is fundamental Christian anthropology under attack.”

Parents attacked online for being ‘transphobic’

Carl and Susan (not their real names) told The Catholic Weekly that after “initially putting our trust” in information they found online from institutions such as Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and its gender clinic they were able to prevent their daughter with gender dysphoria “from a terrible and permanent mistake”.

“It became clear that anyone or any comment questioning the gender affirming approach was labelled as transphobic,” they said.

“The degree to which the topic was controlled in the media and on social platforms was truly scary.”

In part, Dr Whitehall’s submission outlines some of the available evidence of harm done through the medical transition process, for example damage to the brain’s limbic system by puberty blockers.

A 2018 cover of National Geographic Magazine. Parents say they struggle to find support online if they have doubts about affirming a child’s preference if he or she experiences gender dysphoria.

“We are all talking about the importance of informed consent, so how can a child give informed consent to choosing to move onto cross-sex hormones when you’ve messed with his brain?” he said.

Across Australia, he said the numbers of children presenting to hospital with gender confusion has risen from 211 in 2014 to 727 in 2018, giving a total of 2415 children and adolescents who may currently be undergoing therapy.

“To permit perspective, about 960 children and adolescents develop cancer each year in Australia,” he said.

The webpage for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital’s Gender Service states that “transgender and gender diverse children and adolescents have considerably higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm and attempted suicide compared to their cis-gender peers”.

“This is due to their experiences of stigma, discrimination, social exclusion, bullying and harassment. Increasing evidence demonstrates that with supportive, gender affirming care during childhood and adolescence, harms can be ameliorated and mental health and wellbeing outcomes can be significantly improved.”

In April Federal Minister Hunt ruled out a national inquiry into the rise in the number of children confused about their gender and the affirmative model promoted by clinics around the country.

He has asked state and territory health ministers to review gender clinic treatments for youth.

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