West Virginia lawmakers are pushing to remove the suicide risk exemption from the gender-affirming healthcare law

By | February 24, 2024

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Some Republican lawmakers in West Virginia want to ban transgender youth at risk of self-harm or suicide from access to medical interventions such as hormone therapy.

The Republican Party-controlled legislature last year banned such interventions, while allowing the exception for self-harm and suicide. Now a group of lawmakers wants to abolish that narrow definition, which requires parental consent and a diagnosis of severe gender dysphoria from two medical professionals, both of whom must provide written testimony that medical interventions are necessary to prevent or limit potential or actual self-abuse. sorrow.

Next week, lawmakers in the House Health and Human Resources Committee encountered a key deadline on Friday to introduce a bill to the full House that would completely ban interventions such as hormone therapy and puberty blockers. Gender confirmation surgeries, which doctors have said are not common in the state, were banned last year.

It is unclear how likely the bill is to be passed. The House of Representatives passed a similar measure last year, but it was significantly amended by the Republican Senate Majority Leader Tom Takuboa doctor who expressed concern about the high suicide rate among transgender youth.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Del. Geoff Foster, said Friday he thought last year’s bill – which he also sponsored – was better, “clearer and more concise” without Takubo’s changes.

“These are very drastic solutions that don’t solve the problem,” he said of puberty blockers and hormone therapy, saying what is needed is more treatment for depression. He may not believe in gender-affirming care, he said, but those 18 and older can make their own decisions, children cannot.

No one spoke in support of the measure before the House Health vote, but the committee rejected a motion by Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin to allow young people undergoing treatment to continue, even if the interventions are prohibited for new patients.

No testimony was shared by patients receiving care or by the physicians treating them. Fairness West Virginia, the state’s only LGBTQ advocacy group, said a request for a public hearing was denied Friday by the office of Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.

“The argument for this bill is that these are irreversible decisions made by minors, but that is not true,” Pushkin said before the vote. “This type of treatment is reversible – what is not reversible is suicide.”

At least 23 states have now passed laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, and most of those states are facing lawsuits. Lawmakers in West Virginia and other states advocating bans on transgender health care for youth and young adults often characterize gender-affirming treatments as medically unproven, potentially dangerous and a symptom of a “woke” culture.

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said it would not hesitate to take legal action as well.

“If this bill becomes law, we will see the state in court,” the organization wrote on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

Isabella Cortez, Gender Policy Manager for Fairness West Virginia, called the vote “abhorrent” and a “last-minute crazy attempt to eliminate health care” that is already significantly limited.

Every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association, supports gender-affirming care for young people.

Many physicians, mental health specialists, and medical groups have argued that treatments for young transgender people are safe and beneficial, although rigorous long-term research is lacking. Federal health officials have described gender-affirming care as critical to the health and well-being of transgender children and adolescents.

Last year, West Virginia University Medicine pediatrician Dr. Kacie Kidd — one of the few doctors to offer this care to minors in the state — said the effects of puberty-blocking drugs are reversible, although it is rare for a patient to choose the to reverse treatment.

Kidd, medical director of the Children’s Gender and Sexual Development Clinic at West Virginia University Medicine, also said no patient receives hormone therapy before reaching puberty. When minors receive hormone therapy, it is a careful decision made in consultation with the patient and his family members.

She also said she feared the bill would endanger the lives of her patients, noting that the rate of transgender adolescents considering suicide is about 300% higher than the rate for all West Virginia youth regardless of gender identity . But interventions such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy drastically reduce that risk, she said.

Takubo, a physician, cited more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies showing a decrease in suicide thoughts and attempts among youth with severe gender dysphoria who had access to medication therapy.

Gender dysphoria is defined by medical professionals as serious psychological problems experienced by people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth.

Del. Foster said the bill as written last year included all the other exemptions it needed: one for those born intersex and another for people undergoing treatment for infection, injury, disease or disorder that is “caused by or aggravated through the implementation of gender transition procedures.”

He said the bill “already took into account any exceptions that were not specifically intended to change a person’s biological sex to a sex different from the sex assigned at birth.”

During Friday’s meeting, Democratic Del. Anitra Hamilton that there has been a lot of data and research that has carefully considered gender-affirming care and deemed it legitimate.

“I think our ultimate goal is to prevent suicide,” she said.

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