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Australian gender clinic reverses course on puberty blockers for minors

The case is significant not only because the clinic reversed its recommendation for puberty blockers, but also because it's thought to be the first such case in which a court heard from witnesses arguing against the medical transition of minors.

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Mia Ashton Montreal QC
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A Family Court trial in Australia came to a surprising end recently when an expert witness for a gender clinic withdrew a recommendation for puberty blockers for a child who is of elementary school age.

The proceedings, which went on in a closed courtroom setting to protect the identity of the child at the center of the case, set out to resolve a dispute between the child’s parents who disagreed about whether or not their child should embark upon medical transition. The case was settled with an injunction prohibiting not only gender-affirming medical interventions such as puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, but also preventing a change of name and pronouns before the child’s sixteenth birthday, reports Gender Clinic News (GCN).

The Family Court reportedly heard from several experts about developments in Sweden, Finland, and England, where systematic reviews of the evidence for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones revealed a weak evidence base for such interventions for minors. Both Sweden and Finland have already pivoted away from pediatric medical transition and reverted back to a more cautious psychotherapeutic approach, and England is expected to follow suit in the coming months following the completion of an independent review of its youth gender services.

According to GCN, this particular case is significant not only because the gender clinic reversed its recommendation for puberty blockers, but also because it is thought to be the first case of its kind in which a courtroom has heard a more balanced argument that included expert witnesses who argue against the medical transition of minors.

It is reported that in the past, almost all Family Court cases of this kind have only heard the argument for gender affirmation and medical transition of adolescents, with no arguments put forward explaining why puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and bilateral mastectomies might not be such a good idea for adolescents still in the stage of identity development. 

"I can’t discuss any aspect of this case or identify anyone [but] it is my view, being experienced at high-level litigation in these matters, that there needs to be a public inquiry as to how children are treated and diagnosed in this sphere," Bill Kordos, a litigator with AFL Kordos, told GCN.

"In fact, I would go as far as to say that in some cases, [the medical transition of minors] would be tantamount to child abuse."

Kordos further told GCN that he felt the systematic reviews of the medical literature undertaken in other countries had not been taken into consideration in Australia, which he feels is "affecting the decisions doctors are making about how to deal with both the causes and the treatment of gender dysphoria."

Stuart Lindsay, a former Federal Circuit Court judge, told GCN that he feels the Family Law Act’s non-publication provision, which prevents details about such cases from being published, is stifling public debate surrounding the issue of the medical transition of minors.

"There is no good reason why experts who give evidence orally or via affidavits cannot be identified and their evidence and views made the subject of academic or general scrutiny, if nothing in their identification enables identification of a party or child," Lindsay said.

"We need to be able to access full information about what an expert has said and what a court has said about their testimony - more old-fashioned open justice and less Kafka-in-the-courtroom is required," said Lindsay to GCN.

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