Britain’s High Court ruled Tuesday that children under 16 years old are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to medical treatment involving drugs that delay puberty.
The ruling said that because of the experimental nature of the drugs, clinics should seek court authorization before starting such treatment, even in cases of teens aged 16 or over.
The case was brought by two claimants against a National Health Service trust that runs the U.K.’s main “gender reassignment” service for children.
One of the claimants, who was prescribed hormone blockers at 16, argued that the clinic should have challenged her more over her decision to transition to a male.
Tuesday’s ruling will “protect vulnerable young people,” according to Keira Bell, who is now 23 and has stopped taking cross-sex hormones. She added that she was “delighted to see that common sense has prevailed.”
“I wish [the judgement] had been made before I embarked on the devastating experiment of puberty blockers. My life would be very different today,” she said outside the court.
Lawyers for Bell and the other claimant — the mother of a 15-year-old autistic girl on the waiting list for treatment — said that children going through puberty are “not capable of properly understanding the nature and effects of hormone blockers.”
They argued that children who start taking hormone blockers are highly likely to later take cross-sex hormones, which cause “irreversible changes.”
On Tuesday, three judges ruled that children under 16 are unlikely to understand and weigh both the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment to be able to consent to the use of puberty blockers.
They said that puberty blocking drugs are a “pathway to much greater medical interventions” because a vast majority of patients taking the drugs go on to take cross-sex hormones.
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which runs the gender clinic, said it would seek permission to appeal the ruling.
The trans children’s charity Mermaids said the ruling was “devastating” for young transgender people in the country.
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