The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has shared its plans to lower the starting age for gender-affirming treatment for transgender teenagers to 14 years old, reports The Associated Press. The move comes following a review in which WPATH concluded that it was unethical and harmful to deny early treatment to people whose identity doesn't correlate with the gender they were assigned at birth.
In lowering the age at which teenagers can access hormonal therapies and certain surgeries, WPATH hopes to safeguard transgender youths by providing access to gender-affirming care at an age when they will be able to undergo puberty at the same time as their peers. However, the options will only become available to teenagers following an evaluation to assess if they are in a suitable position to begin treatment.
“Certainly, there are adolescents that do not have the emotional or cognitive maturity to make an informed decision,” said Dr Eli Coleman, chair of the group’s standards of care and director of the University of Minnesota Medical School’s human sexuality program.
“That is why we recommend a careful multidisciplinary assessment.”
WPATH’s mission is “to promote evidence based care, education, research, public policy, and respect in transgender health,” as reads their website. And as such, they consulted with over 3,000 doctors and transgender health experts in reaching their conclusions. They expect to publish their findings in a medical journal later this year.
The association recognizes that there are some potential risks to lowering the age at which such treatments can be accessed but say that these are outweighed by the harms of withholding early treatment for suitable candidates. As a means of identifying in which cases to proceed at a younger age, they recommend that the below points are reviewed for each individual:
- Emotional maturity
- Parental consent
- Longstanding gender discomfort
- Psychological evaluations
The review comes after the largest-ever survey of transgender adults from the United States (published in the journal PLOS ONE), which found that starting hormone treatment as a teenager can reduce suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and the onset of major mental health disorders among transgender people.
“These results won’t be surprising to providers, but unfortunately a lot of legislators have never met any transgender youth,” said Dr Jack Turban, a postdoctoral scholar in pediatric and adolescent psychiatry at Stanford Medicine, who led the study which surveyed over 27,000 transgender people.
“Some individuals may become more confident and socially engaged when they begin taking hormones… We are adding to the evidence base that shows why gender-affirming care is beneficial from a mental health perspective.”