Children under the age of 16 are unlikely to be able to give informed consent to the use of puberty-blocking drugs, three High Court judges in the UK ruled on Tuesday.
The case was brought against Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust by 23-year-old, Keira Bell, who was administered experimental puberty blocking drugs by the clinic at 16 years of age.
Ms Bell said her gender reassignment treatment, which she now “very seriously regrets,” quickly snowballed after she was referred to the UK’s first gender clinic for children by her GP.
The teen began taking the life-altering treatment after three one-hour long appointments at the clinic. Ms Bell said, she was unaware, at the time, of the real consequences of taking the hormone blockers which were prescribed to halt the development of her female body.
ITV News reports that Ms Bell said the treatment made her voice drop and caused her to grow facial hair. She went on to have chest surgery and a double mastectomy through the adult clinic, which she said took place after just two appointments.
Ms Bell said she was involved in the lawsuit because she now realises that children and young people cannot consent to the use of such life-altering drugs.
“I think talking therapies when you’re under-18 are always going to be more beneficial than immediately putting yourself on life-altering drugs that are going to affect the rest of your life and I wish that’s what I had for example,” she said.
Ms Bell went on to say, “At the time, I thought it was the best decision I was making, it’s a time will tell sort of situation because nothing else will indicate whether you will stay on that pathway for the rest of your life or not.”
The UK court on Tuesday appears to agree.
Dame Victoria Sharp, sitting with Lord Justice Lewis and Mrs Justice Lieven, said: “It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers.
“It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.”
The judges went on to say: “In respect of young persons aged 16 and over, the legal position is that there is a presumption that they have the ability to consent to medical treatment.
“Given the long-term consequences of the clinical interventions at issue in this case, and given that the treatment is as yet innovative and experimental, we recognise that clinicians may well regard these as cases where the authorisation of the court should be sought prior to commencing the clinical treatment.”
Ms Bell, said she was “delighted” by the judgment.
“This judgement is not political, it’s about protecting vulnerable children,” she said outside the Royal Courts of Justice.
“I’m delighted to see that common sense has prevailed.”
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust said it was “disappointed” by the judgement, saying the outcome is “likely to cause anxiety for patients and their families.”
The trust is likely to seek permission to appeal the ruling.