In a landmark decision the High Court in London has ruled that children are unable to give informed consent to puberty blocker drugs, effectively banning the treatment without a court order.
The ruling, which is likely to reverberate around the world, comes as a result of a case brought by Keira Bell, now 23, against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, the UK’s only specialist gender identity centre for children.
Bell, who was prescribed puberty blockers by the Trust when she was under 16, maintained that children going through puberty are “not capable of properly understanding the nature and effects of hormone blockers”.
They argued that there is “a very high likelihood” that children who start taking hormone blockers will later begin taking cross-sex hormones, which they say cause “irreversible changes”.
In her statement to the court, Ms Bell said: “I made a brash decision as a teenager, as a lot of teenagers do, trying to find confidence and happiness, except now the rest of my life will be negatively affected.”
She added: “Transition was a very temporary, superficial fix for a very complex identity issue.”
In their judgment on Tuesday, Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Lord Justice Lewis and Mrs Justice Lieven, said that children under 16 needed to understand “the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment” to be able to consent to the use of puberty blockers.
Ms Bell was joined in her legal challenge by “Mrs A”, the mother of a 15-year-old autistic girl who is currently on the waiting list for treatment.
A spokesperson for the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust commented, “The Trust is disappointed by today’s judgment and we understand that the outcome is likely to cause anxiety for patients and their families. Our first duty is to our patients, particularly those currently receiving hormone blocking treatment and we are working with our partners, University College London Hospitals NHS Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, to provide support for patients concerned about the impact on their care.
“The Trust is seeking permission to appeal the judgment and, in the meantime, confirms its ongoing support for the review commissioned by NHS England being led by Dr Hilary Cass.”
Mermaids, the controversial charity for transgender children, posted on Twitter that the “High Court ruling deals a potentially devastating blow to trans under 16s seeking access to life-saving puberty blockers. We will respond in full and expect an appeal from GIDS. This is a betrayal of trans young people.”
Here is a copy of the Court’s conclusion: