Ethical Issues in Gender-Affirming Care for Youth
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) youth who suffer from gender dysphoria are at a substantially elevated risk of numerous adverse physical and psychosocial outcomes compared with their cisgender peers. Innovative treatment options used to support and affirm an individual’s preferred gender identity can help resolve gender dysphoria and avoid many negative sequelae of nontreatment. Yet, despite advances in these relatively novel treatment options, which appear to be highly effective in addressing gender dysphoria and mitigating associated adverse outcomes, ethical challenges abound in ensuring that young patients receive appropriate, safe, affordable treatment and that access to this treatment is fair and equitable. Ethical considerations in gender-affirming care for TGNC youth span concerns about meeting the obligations to maximize treatment benefit to patients (beneficence), minimizing harm (nonmaleficence), supporting autonomy for pediatric patients during a time of rapid development, and addressing justice, including equitable access to care for TGNC youth. Moreover, although available data describing the use of gender-affirming treatment options are encouraging, and the risks of not treating TGNC youth with gender dysphoria are evident, little is known about the long-term effects of both hormonal and surgical interventions in this population. To support ethical decision-making about treatment options, we encourage the development of a comprehensive registry in the United States to track long-term patient outcomes. In the meantime, providers who work with TGNC youth and their families should endeavor to offer ethically sound, patient-centered, gender-affirming care based on the best currently available evidence.