Tavistock gender clinic faces court over ‘puberty blockers’ for children Sunday Times 01.03.20

The original article is here.

A landmark case to stop the NHS prescribing “experimental” puberty blockers to children who say they want to change their gender is to go ahead after judges gave it the green light last week.

One of the High Court’s most senior judges, Mr Justice Supperstone, said it was “plainly arguable” that Britain’s first NHS child gender clinic was acting unlawfully when it referred children to receive powerful drugs to arrest puberty. He has given permission for a full trial in the divisional court before the end of July.

The case against Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, which runs a gender identity clinic in London, is being led by Keira Bell, whose gender reassignment treatment began at the clinic when she was only 16.

Yesterday Bell, 23, said she was “very excited” at the ruling, and hoped the case would bring attention to the fact that children are being given experimental drug treatment that could have lifelong consequences.

Bell was depressed as a teenager and asked to be called by a boy’s name at school. Her GP referred her to the gender identity clinic. “From then on everything snowballed,” she said. “I was 16 when I had my first appointment at the Tavistock. After a handful of appointments, I was taking puberty-blocking drugs.

Bell, who has stopped transitioning, is waiting to see whether taking the powerful drugs from a young age has impaired her fertility. “By the time I was 18, I was on cross-sex hormones. It was so quick. Then I got transferred to the adult gender identity service.”

After two appointments she was “referred for chest surgery” to remove her breasts. “From then on I was on my own. They did not keep tabs on me. I had no therapy. I was just living the way I thought was best.” She argues she should not have been given puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, that children cannot give informed consent to such treatment, and that medical staff should have challenged her teenage view that she wanted to be a boy.

According to legal documents, the clinic started prescribing puberty blocking drugs to children as young as 11 or 12 from about 2014 and is still doing so. Nearly all children given puberty blockers go on to take cross-sex hormones after the age of 16.

The most common drug used as a puberty blocker is triptorelin, which is licensed to treat advanced prostate cancer in men, to chemically castrate male sex offenders, and to halt very early puberty. It is not licensed to treat gender dysphoria in children.

In recent years the number of children wanting to change sex has soared. In 2009-10 in England, 40 girls under 18 were referred for gender treatment. By 2017-18 the number stood at 1,806. Over the same period, referrals for boys increased from 57 to 713 a year.

Paul Conrathe of Sinclairslaw, the solicitor representing Bell, said: “The ruling is a significant step towards establishing protection for vulnerable children from experimental treatment that has lifelong consequences.”

Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said: “We welcome the opportunity to talk about the service and to stand up for our dedicated staff who put the best interests of the young people and families at the heart of their practice.”

The NHS is carrying out a review into the use of puberty blockers.




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