HealthDay: Is Suppressing Puberty the Right Course When a Child Questions Their Gender?
By Dennis Thompson
Suppressing puberty in a child who's questioning their gender identity might seem extreme, but the therapy is relatively safe and could significantly lower their risk of suicide, a new study reports.
Adolescents who wanted and received puberty suppression were 60% less likely to have considered suicide within the past year and 30% less likely to consider suicide throughout life, according to findings published in the February issue of Pediatrics.
"This study is the first to show that access to pubertal suppression for transgender youth is associated with lower odds of suicidality," said lead researcher Dr. Jack Turban, a resident psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
Puberty suppression is reversible, relying on medications that tell the brain to stop releasing the gender-related hormones that set off sexual maturity, he said.
The most notable long-term health risks associated with puberty suppression are impaired future fertility and low bone density that could slightly increase risk of broken bones, said Dr. John Lantos, senior author of an ethics analysis that accompanies the suicide risk study.
"Figuring out the best approach to a child or a teenager with gender dysphoria is difficult, because it requires balancing the risks of medical treatment with the psychological benefits that go with gender-affirming therapy," said Lantos, director of pediatric bioethics at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. "In many cases, we don't have good long-term outcome data on either the risks or the benefits. We're trying to make our best guesses."
Lantos said parents with a child questioning their gender identity should take the matter seriously and not minimize it. They should discuss it as a family with their doctor, and seek a referral to a center with expertise in gender issues.
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