Playing politics with children’s lives

Identity politics trumps science and child protection in Victoria. State Health Minister, Martin Foley, who also happens to be the Minister for Equality, announced an extra $21 million for two gender clinics in the state. One focusses on children, the other on adults.

An editorial in The Australian labelled the move “an exercise in identity politics”.

It is certainly oblivious to the growing international concern about medicalised gender change in children’s hospitals. Mr Foley repeats the global slogan of the “gender affirmative” medical model that these treatments are “lifesaving”. As usual, no evidence is offered to support this emotive claim.

What matters is not the uplifting language of solidarity with a social minority — and, of course, we should accept young people who do not conform to gender role stereotypes — but the detail of patient data, follow-up studies, the quality of evidence, ethical guardrails and realistic concepts of informed consent. This is what will decide whether or not young people diagnosed with gender dysphoria are helped or harmed by medical interventions.

The Keira Bell case in the UK confirmed that children under the age of 16 are not capable of giving informed consent. Recently the Karolinska children’s hospital in Sweden reached a similar conclusion, ordering “that no minor be given these hormonal treatments unless it is in a clinical trial under strict supervision”.

England’s National Institute of Health and Care Excellence have also determined that “the evidence for puberty blocker drugs and cross-sex hormones was very weak”.

Carl Heneghan, an Oxford University professor of evidence-based medicine labelled “gender-affirming” hormonal treatments “largely experimental”.

He concluded that “the current evidence base does not support informed decision-making and safe practice in children”. One of the discouraging systematic reviews Professor Heneghan relied on involved paediatrician Ken Pang, who is in charge of research for the RCH gender clinic under Mr Foley’s watch. Yet there was no hint of this body of expert opinion requiring a serious and urgent government response in the minister’s upbeat and celebratory statement on Tuesday. The children, adolescents and families who trust doctors deserve better than this. When will our politicians wake up?

Kirralie Smith, spokeswoman for Binary, said that was an excellent question.

“Children are undoubtedly being experimented on,” she said.

“There is very little evidence for the benefits of giving children irreversible and harmful treatments. Long term studies simply don’t exist.

“Any attempts by academics to research in this area are cancelled or threatened with censorship.

“Politicians are enabling the trend by refusing to ask the necessary questions, and by promoting the agenda via tax-payer funded grants.”