Gender medical treatment for children has seen a staggering spike in recent years. In the U.S. alone, more than 50 pediatric clinics perform or refer out for procedures, including surgery, that could leave young patients unable to have children of their own.
Now, a surprising move by the American Academy of Pediatrics may be putting the brakes on such radical measures. It comes in the wake of criticism from parents and professionals, plus a significant shift in direction overseas.
In July, the United Kingdom stunned many when it closed its Tavistock Centre, the country's gender clinic for children. The shutdown came after an independent review found shaky scientific evidence for pushing hormones, puberty blockers, and surgery.
U.S. hormone specialists like pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Paul Hruz are paying close attention to the gaps in research.
Hruz tells CBN News, "There's been a tendency here in the U.S. to dismiss that and even to double down and be more assertive in saying that the affirmative approach must be used here in this country."
Now, a class action lawsuit against Tavistock is launching with potentially up to a thousand affected families joining.
Barrister Thomas Goodhead is leading the suit and told Times Radio, "I think this is going to be one of the largest medical negligence scandals of all time."
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In the U.S., social media protests over pediatric gender clinics have taken off, prompting places like the Boston Children's Hospital to remove videos explaining its surgeries.
On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) appeared to backpedal, saying that for the vast majority of children it does not recommend medical treatment or surgery. In 2018, it called the watchful waiting method, which delays medical treatment, an outdated approach.
Hruz said the new statement is telling. "I do think that this is a shift. I think it's a response to the criticism that's occurring," he said.
The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) recently formed to promote better research on gender medicine. It noted that the AAP's move realigns it with the UK's new stance as well as that of Sweden and Finland. It also called on the AAP to "update its guidelines accordingly" and spell out alternative treatments like psychotherapy.
The recent growth in gender medicine has been dramatic.
In the U.K., young patients seeking help have risen from hundreds to thousands yearly in just the last decade.
In the U.S., more than 50 pediatric clinics have been opened since Boston first began its center in 2007.
Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Person and Identity Project at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, has tracked the field for years, and says the gender medical treatments given to young children are alarming.
"The protocol has become giving children as young as 9, 10, 11 puberty blockers," she said. "People need to realize that's not a neutral intervention. It's framed as being a pause button. It arrests the normal process that is a whole body process. It's not just about whether their breasts start to develop, their genitalia. It's about maturation in the brain, the emotions, the social aspects, the bone development."
Medical advocates like Dr. Johanna Olson at Children's Hospital Los Angeles contend that giving puberty blockers at a young age can prevent tragedy. "If we get kids early enough in the process, we put them on puberty blockers or medications that actually keep their bodies from progressing through that wrong puberty," she said.
Still, research shows these treatments can cause kids to lose their ability to have children some day and Hasson argues that they can't meaningfully grasp the possible long-term effects.
"They certainly can't consent to losing their fertility and their sexual function at an age where they haven't even experienced anything about that. How can they have a conception of that?" she said.
Many parents are rising up by seeking support in parent groups or becoming politically active after witnessing how gender medicine has harmed their children.
Doctors are also speaking out in professional groups like SEGM.
Hruz said he'd like to see more rigorous research in the field and a slower approach among practitioners.
"I certainly hope that the science can be elevated to be on par with other medical conditions that we treat," he said. "It's not unique that we engage in the practice of medicine in areas where we can have incomplete information and uncertainty, but we have a much higher degree of caution in moving forward in that manner."
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