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Case update 22 June 2021

Ruling threatens young people’s right to make decisions about their own health care

We have filed our intervention to the Court of Appeal arguing that transgender teenagers should be able to consent to treatment the same way teenagers with other medical conditions can. 

The intervention is backed by a coalition of health organisations and LGBTQ+ charities, including the world’s leading authority on hormones, the Endocrine Society, young people’s sexual health organisation Brook, and Gendered Intelligence. It will be considered as part of the appeal of the Bell v Tavistock and Portman NHS Health Foundation ruling, which will be heard on 23 and 24 June.

The High Court ruled in December 2020 that adolescents younger than 16 years old were unlikely to be able to give consent to take reversible hormones to delay puberty. The ruling flies in the face of young people’s right to make decisions about their own medical care, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Gillick competence principle – and which underpins practice across a wide range of health and social care, including reproductive health. 

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What this is really about is the treatment needs of individual patients. And a process that centres on those needs. What we have instead is a media circus where expertise has been displaced by politics – to the detriment of patients.

Where patients and doctors and parents agree on the right course of treatment there is nothing that a Court – that has no medical expertise, is not the patient, and is not the patient’s loving parents – brings to the party. What the judges did in the Bell case – we believe – is replace expertise with politics in a way profoundly harmful to the interests of individuals.

Many clinicians fear the Bell judgment as it stands not only threatens to block trans teenagers from accessing the medical care they need, but drives a coach and horses through the Gillick principle – posing grave risks to the autonomy all young people have over their bodies and medical care.

We hope the Court of Appeal overturns the decision. We expect its decision will be ‘reserved’, which means we won’t have a decision this week, but we will of course keep you updated with how we feel the hearing has gone.

Solidarity with you all.

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