As the U.S. barrels toward allowing more children with gender dysphoria to get medical intervention to affirm their new gender identities, several European countries that have been ahead of the U.S. on this issue are pumping the brakes.
Some countries initially embraced puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for children several years ago, but are now taking a step back.
The United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, and France have all taken steps recently to pull back on transgender medical treatments for seemingly gender-dysphoric children.
Sweden has been one of the most progressive nations on transgender health care for decades. Back in 1972, Sweden became the first country to allow transgender people to change their legal gender.
Last year though, Swedish hospitals halted the use of puberty blockers in five of the country’s six clinics for minors with gender dysphoria. The last clinic only uses puberty blockers in clinical trials. The country now emphasizes psychotherapy for minors with gender dysphoria instead.
The Swedish hospitals cited a U.K. court ruling in their decision.
The U.K. took a step back in December 2020 when the High Court in London effectively suspended prescribing puberty blockers for children 15 and under and recommended that teens ages 16 to 18 get court approval before going on hormones. However, that decision was overturned in September.
The case was brought by Keira Bell, who argued the U.K.’s only youth gender identity clinic should have pushed back more when she expressed her desire to transition to male as a teen and had surgery to remove her breasts.
In April of last year, before the U.K. court’s initial decision in favor of Bell was overturned, the U.K.’s health advisory board, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) found that the evidence for prescribing puberty blockers to minors with gender dysphoria was “very low” and studies of the treatment were small and “subject to bias and confounding.”
In France, the country’s National Academy of Medicine warned medical professionals in a March press release that the spike in young people saying they want to medically transition genders may be due to social contagion and urged medical personnel to approach this issue with extreme caution.
“Whatever the mechanisms involved in adolescents – excessive engagement with social media, greater social acceptability, or influence by those in one’s social circle – this epidemic-like phenomenon manifests itself in the emergence of cases or even clusters of cases in the adolescents’ immediate surroundings,” read the Academy’s press release.
“Great medical caution must be taken in children and adolescents, given the vulnerability, particularly psychological, of this population and the many undesirable effects and even serious complications that can be caused by some of the therapies available,” the press release said.
Finland has walked a similar path. In June 2020, Finland began deemphasizing medical treatment for children with gender dysphoria and recommended prioritized psychotherapy instead. Finland did not ban puberty blockers outright, but said they should be prescribed on a case-by-case basis after “careful consideration.”
“Surgical treatments are not part of the treatment methods for dysphoria caused by gender-related conflicts in minors,” said Finland’s Council for Choices in Health Care, which issues recommendations on public health care.
The Council also said more information is needed about the “effects of different treatment methods on the mental wellbeing, social capacity and quality of life of children and youth,” as well as on the “disadvantages of procedures and on people who regret them.”
“It is quite clear that some of the most progressive countries in Europe are choosing to reconsider their use of medicalizing children’s identities and, in Europe, puberty blockers are fast becoming the most controversial aspect of gender treatment paths for children,” said Stella O’Malley, a U.K.-based psychotherapist and author who works with young people.
O’Malley added that “we simply don’t know who will go on to transition as adults and who will come to accept their bodies as they are,” she told The Daily Wire.
While some of Europe has pulled back, other countries allow children to access transgender hormone therapy at disturbingly young ages. As of 2018, Denmark and Slovenia allowed 15-year-olds to obtain hormones without parental consent, while Latvia allowed 14-year-olds to do so, and Poland and Spain put their minimum age only slightly higher at 16.
In the U.S., the issue of medical intervention for gender dysphoric children has pitted opposing government forces against one another.
The Biden administration has promoted “early” transgender surgeries and hormone treatments as “crucial” for the health of minors who identify as transgender and non-binary.
Meanwhile, last year, Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas banned minors from receiving surgeries related to gender transition. The last three states also banned cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers for minors. Only Alabama’s law is still standing, however, after the others were struck down in federal court. At least 15 states are considering similar pieces of legislation relating to gender dysphoric minors and medical treatments.
Critics have warned that research and data on gender dysphoric children and how various treatment paths affect them is limited. One recent report even suggested that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in teens could actually increase the teen suicide rate, rather than decrease it as advocates claim.