Ohio Republicans introduce bill charging doctors with felonies for underage gender surgeries

Two Ohio Republican lawmakers announced Tuesday they’re introducing a bill that would make it possible to charge doctors with a third-degree felony for performing gender-affirming surgeries or other medical treatments on children under 18.

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State Reps. Ron Hood and Bill Dean plan to introduce the "Protect Vulnerable Children Act" later this week. The measure, backed by Christian policy group Citizens for Community Values, also would allow parents to file civil lawsuits against physicians, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

"What we are concerned about here is Ohio's most vulnerable children are being subjected to experimental, unproven and expensive treatments and surgeries," Hood said at a news conference, according to WKYC.

Responding to a question about the greater rate of suicide in youth who identify as transgender, Hood said: “The best suicide prevention is to care and guide. Not to sterilize. Obviously, these procedures bring about sterilization, which is a very, very permanent decision that is being made at such a young age."

"Families are being coerced and these kids are being gas-lighted by the medical community into believing this fantasy. They are being told that they can actually be the opposite sex," a mother who identified herself as Maria said at the news conference, criticizing what she called "an affirmation-only society."

About 1.8 percent of high school students in the U.S. identify as transgender, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, published in January 2019, found 34 percent of transgender youth tried to commit suicide in the past 12 months.

According to a recent survey of more than 20,000 transgender youth, conducted in November 2019 and published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in January, individuals who received gender-related medical treatment as teens were less likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Scott Leibowitz, a psychiatrist and medical director of behavioral health at Nationwide Children's Hospital's THRIVE Gender Development Program, slammed the Ohio bill for pitting the Hippocratic oath, an oath of ethics historically taken by physicians, against the law.

“It’s a double standard to completely withhold a form of known beneficial medical interventions for this population when we provide medical interventions and treatment for youth for other medical conditions,” Leibowitz told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Several major hospitals in northeast Ohio, including Akron Children's Hospital, Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, have added comprehensive clinical programs for youth who identify as transgender.

Leibowitz said that while his organization, Nationwide Children, does not perform gender-affirming surgeries, at other groups, genital surgery is not performed on patients under 18 but chest surgery may be prescribed for older youth who have already gone through puberty.

A more common form of gender-affirming medical treatment for pre-adolescents is to use “puberty blockers,” or medication prescribed by physicians to delay voice change or breast development by blocking testosterone or estrogen. Cincinnati Children's transgender health clinic claims these hormonal treatments are “almost completely reversible.”

In most cases for children under 18, parents must sign off before surgery. But there have been some exceptions, according to Cleveland.com. And the issue of gender-affirming medical treatment has become the focus of child custody lawsuits between divorced parents.

Wells Logan, a board-certified pediatrician in Columbus, said he’s concerned about the effect of gender-affirming medical treatment on children in the long term, according to Cleveland.com.

 “It’s an identity crisis in children. They need counseling. They need help and for a boy to suggest that he wants to be a girl, every cell in his body is XY," he said, listing the DNA chromosomes that determine a person's biological sex. “For a girl, every cell in her body is XX.”

“There are plenty of areas where the government says this is so egregious, this is so dangerous to children that we have to intervene and protect,” he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the “need for more formal training, standardized treatment, and research on safety and medical outcomes,” in ensuring comprehensive care and support for transgender and gender-diverse children and adolescents. 

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“The decision of whether and when to initiate gender-affirmative treatment is personal and involves careful consideration of risks, benefits and other factors unique to each patient and family,” the association wrote in a policy statement.

“Despite some advances in public awareness and legal protections, youth who identify as LGBTQ continue to face disparities that stem from multiple sources, including inequitable laws and policies, societal discrimination, and a lack of access to quality health care, including mental health care,” it said.