Do Pediatricians Believe that Transgender Affirmation is Child Abuse?

Do Pediatricians Believe that Transgender Affirmation is Child Abuse? March 19, 2016


“The American College of Pediatricians has released an in-depth report stating that the move to indoctrinate children with the idea that they can pick their gender amounts to child abuse.”

This is the opening to a story from the Illinois Family Institute that’s been making the rounds on social media. At first, when I read the headline, I was surprised. It seemed like a very bold statement for a professional organization to make, and so far as I knew the consensus within pediatrics leaned towards gender affirmative treatments. Like most people I have a limited knowledge of what, exactly, all of the major professional organizations for various different branches of medicine are and “The American College of Pediatricians” sounds like a big deal.

It took me about two minutes of digging to realize that they’re not. They’re actually a very small organization (Wikipedia estimates 40 to 200 members) made up of the tiny minority of pediatricians who strongly disagree with the American Association of Pediatrics (an organization with about 62 000 members) on LGBTQ issues. In other words, they’re a lobby group.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen this kind of thing happen with Christian lobby groups, and I think it’s basically dishonest. Why? Well, when people see a title like “American College of…” they assume that they’re getting information from a non-partisan professional organization: a group of doctors, scientists, researchers, who have come together to try to find the best, evidence-based approaches to problems that they encounter in their work. Obviously we all realize that there will be politics involved, but the politics will be tempered (at least to some degree) by the presence of people of good will who have no political axe to grind. People who are honestly willing to evaluate the data and for whom patients’ needs trump political agendas.

Organizations of this type have broad-based credibility precisely because they are formed on the basis of profession, not on the basis of conviction. When a group of people who would be much more honestly described as “Pediatricians Against Gay Adoption” assume a title that suggests they are a non-partisan professional organization this misleads people. It’s intended to mislead people. It’s a bid for a kind of credibility that the organization does not have.

The report itself is similar. The term “report” suggests a long document with a lot of citations in it, references to the most up-to-date studies, balanced consideration of the data. If the report is “in-depth” we would expect it to be even more rigorous. This document is neither a report, nor is it “in-depth.” It’s a position statement. Indeed, the ACP’s web-site clearly identifies it as such. Again, there’s a choice of misleading language to give the impression that something which has a fairly low level of authority has a much higher level of authority.

This kind of dishonesty doesn’t actually help the cause. First, because it is transparent (in the Google age, it takes only a minute to ferret out the truth.) Second, because it suggests that the Christian position is desperate: that we’re grasping at fabricated straws, presumably because we have no real evidence or sound argumentation.

In fact there are very good arguments why we should approach the use of hormone blockers with caution. The research is still very preliminary, the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria have only just been defined for the first time (in DSM-V where GD replaced the older diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder) and it’s very likely that they will require tweaking going forward, we don’t know what long-term effects these medications will have when used to treat GD (they were developed to treat other conditions and have mostly been tested in those contexts), etc.

The problem with these arguments, however, is that they express concerns which are practical and scientific rather than ideological. They leave open the possibility that further research will confirm that inhibiting puberty is safe, that improved diagnosis will allow us to better distinguish which children will actually be best served by these measures, that hormone blockers and gender affirmation produce the best mental health outcomes for youths with gender dysphoria. They leave open the possibility that as the science develops it will come out in favour of a treatment at odds with Culture Wars Christianity.

Pro-family lobby groups don’t want arguments like that. Their concerns are ideological and religious, not scientific and medical. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that in principle: there are important religious and philosophical questions at stake here. But that’s not science. And putting a thin veneer of science on a religious tract does not make it a scientific report, nor does it convince anyone who is not already convinced.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
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