Blog Post - Transgender Healthcare

Include Medical Providers in Discussions of Transgender Healthcare for Minors

Last month, I attended the Health and Human Services Committee’s July Interim meeting on transgender healthcare for minors and left with a question: why wasn’t there a doctor speaking on this topic? By passing and maintaining S.B. 16, the bill banning medical treatment for transgender minors, the Legislature is stepping between doctors and their patients to make decisions about treatment for them. This is an extreme action and should require equally extreme evidence to justify. A practitioner of trans healthcare ought to be part of that evidence to show legislators what treatment looks like.

There technically was a doctor speaking to the committee, but Dr. Leor Sapir is not a medical doctor. He has a Ph.D in political science and represents the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Guests were invited to the meeting to discuss research on the outcomes of trans healthcare, but Sapir was the only one who spoke on this specifically. The other experts speaking did not do so directly on research results, but rather the need for more research in general. This left a gap in the conversation that only Sapir could fill, and, simply put, he is not qualified to do so.

As this hearing was a follow up to the passage of S.B. 16, I wondered if healthcare providers had spoken in previous meetings, so I looked it up. While there were medical experts who spoke on this issue in the past, it was not under the same circumstances as Sapir. While Sapir, an opponent of trans rights, got all the time he wanted to speak, medical experts were only given two minutes. That is nowhere near enough time to properly educate committee members on the topic or answer any questions they might have.

In his presentation, Sapir admitted his inadequacy as an expert, but offered weak reasoning why experts were not involved.. He claimed that a clinician in this area of medicine would be biased due to prior involvement in the field. There are several problems with this statement. First, Sapir works for a conservative think tank and was representing them at this meeting. He should not be speaking on bias before analyzing his own. Second, this is the only field of medicine where hearing from an expert in the area is considered bad. You would not have a doctor of political science speak on the medical outcomes of contraception would you? The legislature didn’t. In August of 2023 they had two medical doctors from the University of Utah speak on this topic. Why didn’t they have an issue listening to doctors then?

The biggest disconnect between supporters and opposers of treatment for trans minors is what they believe that process looks like, but Republican lawmakers refuse to challenge their beliefs. Sapir stated that he was there to comment on other countries’ trans healthcare policies, but went on to do far more. Sapir is clearly not qualified to do more than testify generally on trans healthcare policies, yet he ultimately testified about the actual treatments themselves. The Republicans on the committee should not have put him in that position. If a healthcare provider were there instead, they could answer questions about fertility treatments, the diagnostic process, and how long it takes to receive a puberty blocker prescription.

Researchers play a valuable role, but that role must be taken in the context of their expertise. Healthcare providers would only be able to speak anecdotally on treatment outcomes, but they could speak on what treatment looks like, an equally valuable role.

S.B. 16 put together a team to research the outcomes of trans children who are provided puberty blockers and/or hormones. This concession by Republican lawmakers should have been before they attacked the freedoms of parents and advice of doctors, not after. The research team and the panel on trans healthcare are clearly only symbolic efforts at understanding the issue. For this extreme attack on freedom to have been signed, lawmakers owe us genuine efforts to understand trans healthcare, not symbolic. A medical doctor must be allowed to speak to them on this issue.

Autumn Barney is a Summer 2024 intern at Alliance for a Better Utah. They are a political science student at the University of Utah.

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