Doctors in the U.S. could face lawsuits for treating trans minors under proposed federal law

The bill would allow a 30-year statute of limitation for anyone who wishes to bring legal action against a medical provider of trans-affirming care

Republican lawmakers in the U.S. are pushing a federal bill that would allow patients and their families to sue if later in life they regret the gender-affirming care they received as a minor.

The “Protecting Minors from Medical Malpractice Act” would allow a 30-year statute of limitation for anyone who wishes to bring legal action against a medical provider after they turn 18 years old. Former patients or their legal guardians would be entitled to seek damages and financial penalties against doctors and other healthcare professionals who provide treatments like puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and gender-affirming surgery, the latter of which is not typically performed on minors.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in the U.S. Senate and co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) in the House of Representatives. In a statement, Cotton claimed that gender-affirming healthcare is not “safe or appropriate for children.”

“Unfortunately, radical doctors in the United States perform dangerous, experimental and even sterilizing gender-transition procedures on young kids, who cannot even provide informed consent,” he said in a press release. “Our bill allows children who grow up to regret these procedures to sue for damages. Any doctor who performs these irresponsible procedures on kids should pay.”

Banks added in a statement that medical treatments intended to affirm a trans minor’s sense of self “lack any solid evidence and have been rejected by public health agencies around the world.” 

“Ten years from now, there will be hundreds of thousands of Americans who were permanently scarred by the radical Left’s agenda before they reached adulthood,” he said. “If Democrats truly supported gender-confused children, they’d support our effort to give them legal recourse.” 

Despite these claims, studies have shown that gender-affirming healthcare is not only safe, but effective at treating the gender dysphoria of trans adolescents. A December study from The Trevor Project found that trans youth who were able to access HRT had lower rates of suicidal ideation and depression than those who lacked affirming treatment. A report published in JAMA Surgery earlier the same year also found that gender-affirming care positively impacts the mental well-being of trans young people.

Leading U.S. medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have approved the use of treatments like hormones and puberty blockers for trans youth in consultation with medical providers.

Although the congressional bill is the first of its kind to be introduced at the federal level, it mirrors statewide efforts to limit gender-affirming care for minors in recent years. At least eight U.S. states have introduced legislation this year seeking to prevent trans youth from accessing medical care that meets their unique needs, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). An Alabama law penalizing doctors who treat trans youth with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison was signed in April.

 

Several states have also sought to embolden patients to seek legal action against gender-affirming care providers. As the progressive news outlet American Independent reports, states like Iowa, Kentucky and Oklahoma have all introduced legislation that would allow patients to sue their doctors if they experience “psychological, emotional and physical harm” as a result of the procedure, per the text of Iowa’s bill.

Where the congressional legislation differs is that it also calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to refuse federal funding to any state that requires doctors to affirm the gender identities of trans youth—even using correct names and pronouns while patients are under their care.

The federal bill is being backed by a litany of anti-LGBTQ2S+ interest groups. These include Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposed the repeal of state-level sodomy bans; American Principles Project, which paid for ads during the 2020 election warning that trans athletes are forcing cisgender girls out of sports; CHANGED Movement, which propagates conversion therapy; and Family Research Council, which likens homosexuality to pedophilia.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that he will sign an executive order defending the right of trans youth and their families to seek gender-affirming medical care. It’s unclear when he plans to sign the order, and a final draft has not been made public.

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an award-winning reporter and editor, and former contributing editor at Xtra. Their work has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Washington Post, Vox, BuzzFeed, Jezebel, The Guardian, Out, The Advocate, and the L.A. Times.

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