Is the use of puberty blockers an experimental treatment?


The ethics of administering puberty blockers to transgender children is being questioned in the United Kingdom. Dr Michael Biggs, an Oxford sociologist, says that the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has been prescribing them without robust evidence on the long-term effects.

Whether or not commencement of puberty blockers is a major step is a controversial question. GIDS’s position is that it is “reversible”. Yet Dr Biggs, using GIDS documents accessed with a Freedom of Information request, says that this is not true. One of these documents says: ‘It is not clear what the long term effects of early suppression may be on bone development, height, sex organ development, and body shape and their reversibility if treatment is stopped during pubertal development.”

He writes in a blog, Transgender Trend, that:

there is unpublished evidence that after a year on GnRHa children reported greater self-harm, and that girls experienced more behavioural and emotional problems and expressed greater dissatisfaction with their body—so puberty blockers exacerbated gender dysphoria. Yet the study has been used to justify rolling out this drug regime to several hundred children aged under 16. 

The number of children enrolled in gender transition programs is soaring in the UK. In 2018 around 2,000 transgender or gender questioning children (a 300% increase in three years) were seen by GIDS. About 15% were approved for puberty blockers. But neither the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) or their manufacturers have certified that they are safe or effective for the treatment of gender dysphoria. Their use is effectively experimental even though some 300 new prescriptions are issued each year.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge 




MORE ON THESE TOPICS | puberty blockers, transgender children, transgenderism

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