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UK court rules against clinic in puberty blocking drugs case

December 1, 2020 GMT
Keira Bell speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Britain’s High Court has ruled that children under 16 years old who are considering gender reassignment are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty. The case was brought by two claimants against a National Health Service trust that runs the U.K.’s public gender identity development service for children. Bell, one of the claimants, who was prescribed hormone blockers at 16, argued that the clinic should have challenged her more over her decision to transition to a male. (Sam Tobin/PA via AP)
Keira Bell speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. Britain’s High Court has ruled that children under 16 years old who are considering gender reassignment are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty. The case was brought by two claimants against a National Health Service trust that runs the U.K.’s public gender identity development service for children. Bell, one of the claimants, who was prescribed hormone blockers at 16, argued that the clinic should have challenged her more over her decision to transition to a male. (Sam Tobin/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s High Court ruled Tuesday that children under 16 years old who are considering gender reassignment are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty.

The ruling said that because of the experimental nature of the drugs, clinics should seek court authorization before starting such treatment, even in cases of teens aged 16 or over.

The case was brought by two claimants against a National Health Service trust that runs the U.K.’s main gender identity development service for children. One of the claimants, who was prescribed hormone blockers at 16, argued that the clinic should have challenged her more over her decision to transition to a male.

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Tuesday’s ruling will “protect vulnerable young people,” said Keira Bell, who is now 23 and has stopped taking cross-sex hormones. She added that she was “delighted to see that common sense has prevailed.”

“I wish (the judgement) had been made before I embarked on the devastating experiment of puberty blockers. My life would be very different today,” she said outside the court.

Hormone blockers are drugs that can pause the development of puberty, and are sometimes prescribed to help children with gender dysphoria by giving them more time to consider their options.

Lawyers for Bell and the other claimant — the mother of a 15-year-old autistic girl on the waiting list for treatment — said that children going through puberty are “not capable of properly understanding the nature and effects of hormone blockers.”

They argued that children who start taking hormone blockers are highly likely to later take cross-sex hormones, which they say cause “irreversible changes.”

Health officials involved in the case argued that taking hormone blockers and later cross-sex hormones were “entirely separate” stages of treatment.

But on Tuesday, three judges ruled that children under 16 are unlikely to understand and weigh both the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment to be able to consent to the use of puberty blockers. They said that puberty blocking drugs are a “pathway to much greater medical interventions” because a vast majority of patients taking the drugs go on to take cross-sex hormones.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which runs the gender clinic, said it would seek permission to appeal against the ruling.

The trans children’s charity Mermaids said the ruling was “devastating” for trans young people in the country.