By Kathleen Gilbert

CHEVY CHASE, Maryland, January 5, 2009 ( – An international medical organization has recommended that children as young as 12 who question their sexual identity should be given drugs to block the physical changes of puberty.

The New Scientist reports that the injunction comes as part of a set of guidelines, the first of its kind, published last month by the Endocrine Society.  The “Guidelines For Health Organisations Commissioning Treatment Services For Trans People” call for healthcare administrators around the globe to provide full coverage for hormonal and cosmetic procedures sought by individuals identified as “transsexual.”

The doctors project that relatively new puberty-blocking drugs could “buy time” for young teens who may later decide they are unsatisfied with their sex, and thereby avoid undergoing the bodily changes that belong to the sex that they are dissatisfied with.

“We recommend that adolescents who fulfill eligibility and readiness criteria for gender reassignment initially undergo treatment to suppress pubertal development,” New Scientist quoted the guidelines as saying.

The document also noted that children under 16, who would normally need parental consent, ought to be allowed “treatment” against their parents’ wishes, if they have been deemed “Gillick” competent by a clinician – referring to the 1985 court case Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbeach which found that if a child is found to have adequate understanding the requirement of parental consent may be overcome.

The recommendations rest upon the results of trials at a Netherlands clinic where puberty blockers have been administered to more than 70 children under sixteen, with one patient as young as 11.

Currently Canada, Australia, Germany, and some clinics in the U.S. permit the puberty-blocking drugs.  The effects of the drug are designed to wear off should the patient discontinue use, but the long-term effects of chemically delaying puberty are virtually unknown.

Peggy Cohen-Kettenis of the Free University of Amsterdam Medical Center, who helped write the new guidelines, acknowledged that “people are always afraid that it will be harmful for the children,” but added that “what they never take into account is that it is also harmful to not give them this treatment.”  The document emphasizes that the goal for treatment of such individuals is “to obtain lasting personal comfort in terms of phenotype and gender role.”

Dr. Russell Viner of the Institute of Child Health warned that early manipulation of natural development could tamper with a child’s maturing self-perception. 

“The real question is: if you intervene early in a young person who would otherwise change their mind, do you reinforce their gender identity disorder? Do you remove the chance for change?” asked Viner.

Bioethicist Wesley Smith told that encouraging the use of untested chemicals that interfere with normal biological development treads a dangerous line.  “Do we know what the impact of such heavy hormonal interference will be on the health of these young people?” he asked.  “If not, doesn’t this border on unethical human experimentation?”


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