Concerns over freedom of conscience and religious liberty are at times dismissed as paranoia. Yet real-life situations arising under federal mandates continue to strain conscientious objectors. Such may be the unintended consequences of a new and well-intended Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate on the medical treatment of children with gender dysphoria.
Minor children and youths who suffer from gender dysphoria are highly vulnerable to a variety of anxieties. They deserve our empathy, help and consideration. But in trying to provide help to this population, government regulations can sometimes do more harm than good.
In an effort to ensure access to medical treatment, HHS recently mandated that when requested, doctors must provide “gender transition” services to those experiencing gender dysphoria — including to children and minors. These services may include “counseling” but also "surgical procedures" and "hormone therapy." HHS specifically denied any religious exemptions that would allow doctors to be excused from providing these services.
While this mandate is intended to force doctors to provide gender transition services regardless of their deeply held personal religious beliefs, the mandate has run into a more fundamental problem based on medical experience. Opponents argue that “HHS’s own panel of medical experts acknowledged that gender transition procedures can be harmful to patients and in many cases are not medically justified.” Furthermore, evidence from multiple sources indicates that a large number of youths eventually naturally grow out of their dysphoria without the need of “hormone regimens.”
Moreover, the mandate requires doctors to provide the services even if their opinion is that those services may harm their patients. In other words, there are no exemptions for those who in good conscience refuse to perform the procedure on nonreligious grounds.
While this mandate has the well-intended objective of ensuring that those with gender dysphoria have access to medical services, it tramples the medical profession’s long commitment to the Hippocratic oath (“first, do no harm”).
We acknowledge that there are disputes about the credibility of the evidence marshaled against the mandate. Candidly, the statistics on the long-term effects of gender-change surgery and hormone treatments for youths are still unsettled. And that’s the problem. This new mandate sets a precedent based on less-than-scientific understanding of the implications.
The HHS mandate is now under legal challenge by a variety of parties. Unfortunately, history suggests that this battle will be resolved by those with the most political clout, rather than those with the best interests of all those involved. The Utah Compromise is a precedent for a better solution — one that would ensure both access to medical services for transgendered youths while providing exemptions on the basis of religious belief or professional judgment.
Finding a better way often takes painstaking effort and patience. But as Hillary Clinton said in her exemplary concession speech, “please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it.” It is worth the effort to find a better way than what is embodied in this HHS mandate.
As America inevitably increases in diversity, the only path to continued peace and prosperity is to increase our understanding and empathy for one another and to treat others as we want to be treated. Any other path will lead to a culture of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth that will surely leave us all blind (and toothless).