Teen gender transitions harmful, pediatricians say

NASHVILLE (BP) -- An association of pediatricians has released a research paper citing scientific evidence that permitting gender-confused adolescents to impersonate the opposite sex through surgery or hormone therapy is harmful.

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"The treatment of [gender dysphoria] in childhood with hormones effectively amounts to mass experimentation on, and sterilization of, youth who are cognitively incapable of providing informed consent," the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) stated in an Aug. 3 document titled "Gender Dysphoria in Children."

"There is a serious ethical problem with allowing irreversible, life-changing procedures to be performed on minors who are too young to give valid consent themselves; adolescents cannot understand the magnitude of such decisions," according to ACPeds.

The document defines gender dysphoria as "a psychological condition in which children experience a marked incongruence between their experienced gender and the gender associated with their biological sex."

With its latest release, the College expanded on a 17-point summary statement released in March. The socially conservative ACPeds is distinct from the larger American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

In contrast to ACPeds' recommendations, the AAP website lists as one therapy for gender dysphoria "potentially delaying puberty" with drugs, then employing cross-sex hormone therapy to help the patient establish characteristics of the opposite sex, "and finally [gender reassignment] surgery." The AAP adds, "Counseling is paramount to assist the teenager with any dysphoria and to explore gender roles before altering the body."

Such recommendations have drawn pointed criticism from ACPeds, which favors "the standard approach" of "either watchful waiting or pursuit of family and individual psychotherapy."

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 100 percent of children who received puberty suppression treatments eventually opted to undergo hormone therapy and identify as transgender. "This is cause for concern," ACPeds stated, because multiple studies have found 80-95 percent of children with gender dysphoria effectively grow out of it and accept their biological sex by late adolescence.

"A protocol of impersonation and pubertal suppression that sets into motion a single inevitable outcome (transgender identification) that requires lifelong use of toxic synthetic hormones, resulting in infertility, is neither fully reversible nor harmless," ACPeds stated.

Among the research paper's other conclusions:

-- Environmental factors like family dynamics and childhood sexual abuse are the predominant cause "in the development and persistence of gender dysphoria." In 80 percent of cases where one in a set of identical twins is "trans-identified," the other is not, according to twin studies, ruling out the possibility that so-called gender identity is controlled chiefly by genetics.

-- "There are now 40 gender clinics across the United States that promote the use of pubertal suppression and cross-sex hormones in children." Such therapy is "growing really fast" because "parents are demanding it," according to a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Medical Center in Dallas.

-- While surveys suggest some adults with gender dysphoria "express a sense of 'relief' and 'satisfaction'" following sex reassignment surgery, such procedures do not "result in a level of health equivalent to that of the general population." Heightened levels of depression and suicide are among the trends studies have discovered among "post-operative transgender adults."

-- State bans on so-called "conversion therapy" treatment "prevent [state licensed] therapists from exploring not only a young person's sexual attractions and identity, but also his or her gender identity. Therapists are not allowed to ask why an adolescent believes he or she is transgender; may not explore underlying mental health issues; cannot consider the symbolic nature of the gender dysphoria; and may not look at possible confounding issues such as social media use."

Psychologist and neuroscientist Matthew Stanford told Baptist Press pastors should read the ACPeds research paper.

"The statement is a wonderful synopsis of" the cultural discussion about transgenderism, said Stanford, CEO of the Hope and Healing Center in Houston. Studying it will help pastors provide scientific information to parents of teens struggling with gender identity.

Stanford urged pastors to find pediatricians in their communities who agree with the statement and to refer children struggling with gender identity to those doctors.

"Some people will be gender identity dysphoric because we live in a fallen world," Stanford said. "That's not a reason for us then to give in and say [to a boy], 'Yeah, it's okay. Just go ahead and live as a girl,' because the science shows us that doesn't really help. Number two, that's not what God intended."

Scott Huitink, a Nashville-area pediatrician who is a member of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., told BP he is aware of individuals who have "crossed over" to an appearance opposite their biological sex. Huitink said he fears there may be psychological needs other "than gender identity going on."

In some instances, other issues may be "just manifesting as gender identity," he said.

Gender dysphoria is a "complex issue," Huitink said, and many pediatricians have not studied it in depth. A fundamental principle by which he operates is to treat all patients as "made in the image of God," regardless of whether they share his views of gender identity.

In its research paper, ACPeds affirmed the instincts of all pediatricians who are hesitant about supporting gender transitions.

"The College recommends an immediate cessation" of puberty suppression, cross-sex hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries in children and adolescents, the paper stated, "as well as an end to promoting gender ideology via school curricula and legislative policies. Health care, school curricula and legislation must remain anchored to physical reality."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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