Following an appeal brought about by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the Court of Appeal is now considering whether people aged below 16-years-old can provide consent to medical treatment that delays puberty, via hormone-suppressing treatment, in order to provide further "options" on gender dysphoria.
The forthcoming decision follows the case of Keira Bell, who took legal action against an NHS gender clinic in 2020 after she believed that she "should have been challenged" more by staff over her decision to transition to a male during her teenage years. Bell believes that children and teenagers can't fully understand all of the implications of the puberty-blocking treatment — the High Court described the methods as "experimental" — which is used for children experiencing gender dysphoria.
"I should have been challenged on the proposals or the claims that I was making for myself," Bell said at the time. "And I think that would have made a big difference as well. If I was just challenged on the things I was saying."
Now 23-years-old, Bell regrets taking the treatment and subsequently transitioning into a male. The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust argues that its facilities provide safe treatment and always puts patients' and families' interests first.
"Not providing treatment means that the child remains in a position of distress and difficulties in making choices about what to do next," said Trust legal representative Fenella Morris QC, who went on to argue that puberty blockers are fully reversible. "There is no suggestion anywhere that this is one pathway... there is no shying away from explaining to children and young people what the possibilities are."
According to the NHS, "little is known" about gender dysphoria's long-term side effects and whether this hormone-blocking treatment, available at the UK's only Gender Identity Development Service (Gids), could affect the development of teenager's brains or children's bones. The judgement on the appeal from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust is reserved for a later date.
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