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Children aged 13 and under can’t give informed consent to hormone blockers, court hears

Written by on 7 October 2020

It is “simply a fairytale” to think children of 13 or under can give informed consent to receive hormone blockers to delay puberty, the High Court has been told.

The case has been brought by 23-year-old Keira Bell, who began treatment to become a boy at 16, and the unnamed mother of a 16-year-old girl, who is on the waiting list to change gender.

They claim that anyone under the age of 18 should only be prescribed hormone blockers with court supervision in place.

Their legal action is against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which runs the country’s only gender identity clinic for children.

Jeremy Hyam QC, representing the claimants, described how hormone blockers given to Keira to delay puberty have left her with loss of concentration, brain fog, insomnia, night sweats and loss of sexual function.

The court was told how children as young as 10 have been deemed capable of giving consent to receive the puberty-blocking drugs.

Keira began the medication at 16 and started taking the cross-sex hormone testosterone the following year. At 20 she had a double mastectomy, the court heard.

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But she said in a witness statement she made a brash decision as a teenager in an attempt to find confidence and happiness, but that transition provided a “very temporary, superficial fix for a very complex identity issue”.

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The 23-year-old is taking action alongside the family of a 16-year-old girl

She told Sky News: “There was no in-depth discussion or investigation into my gender dysphoria feelings, they accepted it for what it was.

“I was extremely upset, realising how traumatic the experience was and how deceitful I feel the clinicians were during my care.

“And once you actually go through that process, it’s going to be difficult to admit you made a mistake as it’s such a gruesome and difficult process to go through.”

The court was told how there has been a 20-fold increase in referrals to GIDS – the Gender Identity Development Service at the Trust – between 2009 and 2018.

The case is being heard at the High Court in London
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The case is being heard at the High Court in London

Fenella Morris QC, representing the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, said the contention that children could not give informed consent to being prescribed hormone blockers was “a radical proposition”.

She said in written submissions that the claimants sought to “impose a blanket exclusion” on children under the age of 18 to be able to consent to medical treatment.

Ms Morris added the majority of children referred to GIDS between March 2019 and 2020 were over 12, with only 13 of the children referred being under the age of 13.

She accepted hormone blockers were “experimental” but claimed their use “has been widely researched and debated for three decades”, adding: “It is a safe and reversible treatment with a well-established history.”

The trust has said: “GIDS is a safe and thoughtful service which puts the best interest of its patients and their families first.”

Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, National Children’s Bureau and The Children’s Society have released a joint statement.

It said: “Many trans children and young people feel lonely and isolated due to a lack of support, understanding, and acceptance.

“Denying them agency has the potential to compound this and can put them at high risk of mental illness and emotional distress, potentially affecting their long-term future.

“But we also know that with the right support from the adults in their lives, trans young people can lead happy and healthy childhoods.

“It’s vital that trans children and young people feel listened to, understood and accepted.”