A new analysis by the Heritage Foundation calls into question the widespread claim that giving puberty blockers and hormones to children who reject their biological sex prevents suicides – and grimly suggests the opposite may be true.
In a report titled “Puberty Blockers, Cross-Sex Hormones, and Youth Suicide, the conservative think tank determined that causal conclusions being drawn between medical interventions and suicide among young people are not supported by data. The Washington-based foundation is hoping states use its findings to pursue policies strengthening parental involvement in such pivotal decisions for their children.
“The claim that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones prevent suicides is being used by the Biden administration and state policymakers to ease access to those drugs,” Jay Greene, Heritage Foundation senior research fellow, Center for Education Policy, told The Daily Wire. “As it turns out, the science behind that claim is extremely weak and when the evidence is examined properly, it shows that making cross-sex treatments more widely available risks raising youth suicide rates rather than reducing them.”
The findings, which have not gone through peer-review, could be significant in light of President Joe Biden‘s administration’s recent assertion that “early” interventions are “crucial” for the health of kids and teens who identify as transgender and nonbinary. In making those claims, Biden is echoing groups like the ACLU and LGBTQ organizations like the Trevor Project.
“It’s clear that gender-affirming care has the potential to reduce rates of depression and suicide attempts while banning this vital care and exposing young people to harmful political rhetoric can cause real harm,” Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, said in December, noting that it is “critical that all transgender and nonbinary youth across the country have access to medical care that is affirming, patient-centered, and evidence-based.”
To help transgender youth and their parents thrive, the @WhiteHouse highlighted several new resources including OPA’s resource on gender-affirming care and why it is important. https://t.co/QohcgIFzfP https://t.co/4tAz8yMndl #TDov2022
— Office of Population Affairs (@HHSPopAffairs) March 31, 2022
Prior research conducted on the relationship between adolescent suicides and puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones is weak not only because it doesn’t contain “credibly causal studies and only a handful of correlational studies,” Green wrote, but also because the correlational studies previously conducted are “poorly executed.”
Elevated suicide rates in states where minors can easily access puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones became “observable” in 2010, Green wrote, noting that “rather than being protective against suicide, this pattern indicates that easier access by minors to cross-sex medical interventions without parental consent is associated with higher risk of suicide.”
The report found that around 2016, suicide rates among young people aged 12 to 23 began to increase dramatically in states with provisions allowing minors to access healthcare without parental consent, compared to states that do not have such a provision. This was after cross-sex medical intervention became more common, the report said.
“By 2020, there are about 3.5 more suicides per 100,000 people ages 12 to 23 in states with easier access than in states without an access provision,” the study said, noting that “there is no similar spike in suicide rates among those ages 28 to 39” at that time.
Here's how the White House describes "gender-affirming care" pic.twitter.com/6XHyVxkcSo
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) March 31, 2022
States that have the minor access provision include Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont, according to the analysis, which notes that there is “no obvious geographic, demographic, or partisan pattern to whether states have these provisions.
Before 2010, Green found, state policies allowing minors to access healthcare without parental consent did not really play into the trend in suicide rates among young people aged 12 to 23.
“The timing of the increase in suicide rates” raises “serious concerns about the effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones on suicide risks, Green wrote, noting that the suicide rates increased “only among young people, only after puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are introduced and used widely, and only in states where minors could access those medical interventions without parental consent.”
The Heritage Foundation analysis stops short of examining whether people who obtain “gender-related medical interventions are at a higher risk of suicide.” But it does directly examine “the state policies that facilitate minors accessing those interventions without parental consent and finds that those policies raise suicide risks among young people.”
“To believe that easier access to puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are not the cause of elevated suicide risk in those states, one would have to be able to imagine other medical interventions that only became widely available after 2010 and would only affect young people,” Green wrote. “The lack of theoretically plausible alternatives strengthens the case for concluding that cross-sex medical interventions are the cause of the observed increase in suicide among young people.”
The Heritage Foundation report did not analyze a 2019 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, which found that exposure to conversion therapy, “a discredited practice that seeks to change a trans person’s gender identity,” is linked to suicidal thoughts and attempts, according to NBC News. However, the Foundation did examine the survey that the 2019 study was based on, finding it to be unrepresentative of all American adults who identify as transgender “because its participants were recruited as a convenience sample, largely through transgender support groups.”