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Ruling limiting puberty blockers for under-16s overturned

The High Court ruled in December 2020 that under-16s weren't able to provide informed consent to start puberty blockers.

2021-09-17

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Wiki

The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that under-16s can take puberty blockers without the need for parental consent, overturning a High Court ruling from last December.

The ruling was overturned on Friday (16 September) with the Appeals Court making it clear that it should be up to doctors to decide if a child could give consent to using the drugs.

It’s a welcome announcement for England’s only gender identity clinic, which brought forward the appeal, as well as LGBTQ and trans groups.

"The damage is done"

The original case was brought by 24-year-old Keira Bell, who had begun the process of transitioning as a teenager before later detransitioning. She argued that the Tavistock Centre should have challenged her more and says she will is seek to appeal this latest verdict at the Supreme Court.

Bellwas joined by an unnamed mother of a child awaiting an appointment with the Tavistock Centre.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal said it was for “clinicians to exercise their judgement” on the matter and obtain consent from children and parents. It also recognised that “Clinicians will inevitably take great care before recommending treatment to a child and be astute to ensure that the consent obtained from both child and parents is properly informed”.

The ruling says it was “inappropriate” for the High Court to provide the guidance it did – namely that under-16s couldn’t provide informed consent. It’s also recognised that in some cases, it may be appropriate for courts to get involved, but only in “specific difficult cases”.

The news was welcomed by the Tavistock Trust who said: "The judgement upholds established legal principles which respect the ability of our clinicians to engage actively and thoughtfully with our patients in decisions about their care and futures.”

LGBTQ charities and groups also celebrated. Trans youth charity Mermaids,released a statement describing the news as a “victory” and saying the original ruling had a “devastating” impact on trans children and their families.

The charity says one parent told them: “I’m keeping everything crossed for later, but part of me feels the damage is done,” and that their child had been failed by the system supposed to support her.

In their response to the verdict, Stonewall called on the NHS and UK Government to “take urgent action to address the unacceptable waiting lists facing trans young people, and ensure that all trans and questioning young people can get high-quality care, when they need it.”

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