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House votes to remove exemptions for at-risk minors to take medicine for gender dysphoria

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates passed a bill that would remove narrow exceptions meant to allow minors going through gender dysphoria to be treated with minimum dosages of medication if they are at risk of hurting themselves or others.

House Bill 5297 passed 88-11 and now goes to the state Senate, where the exemptions were put in place just last year after discussion of teens considering suicide.

“This bill continues the prohibited practice of irreversible gender-reassignment surgery and prescribing gender-altering medication for the purpose of assisting a minor with gender transition,” said House Health Chairwoman Amy Summers, R-Taylor.

She concluded, “We’re just saying children cannot have irreversible surgery and cannot take medication that transitions them prior to adulthood.”

A bill passed last year by the Legislature, “Prohibiting certain medical practices,” focused on irreversible gender-affirming surgery, although physicians said that doesn’t happen with minors in West Virginia.

A revised version of that bill also included gender-altering medication. As debate unfolded in the Senate, it focused on peer-reviewed medical studies concluding the use of medications in gender dysphoria can lower the risk of depression and suicide.

The Senate passed a version of the bill allowing treatment with medication if a minor has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by two doctors, if the doctors express written opinions that the treatment is medically necessary to limit self-harm or harm to others, if the minor and their parents or legal guardians agree, and if the medications are the lowest dose necessary.

This year’s House bill strikes out those exceptions.

Delegate Geoff Foster, the main sponsor of the bill, said he supports removing the exemptions put in place by the Senate. He said focus should not be on making puberty-blocking medication available to minors but, instead, treating depression.

“By removing this exception, I think we’re focusing more on getting these kids the help they need — which is, many times, these situations where they’re dealing with depression and something that would not be a life-altering drug could help them cope with something that is an issue they’re dealing with,” said Foster, R-Putnam.

The bill was presented in committee for about 15 minutes last Friday afternoon, and no doctors were called to testify.

Fairness West Virginia this week distributed a letter signed by more than 550 health care providers across West Virginia in opposition to the House bill.

“Research has shown that transgender youth who access gender-affirming hormone therapy have 73% lower odds of considering suicide. Gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender adolescents is evidence and guideline-based care recommended by every major medical organization. In many cases, this care can be life-saving,” wrote the signatories of the letter.

Delegate Anitra Hamilton, D-Monongalia, cited that statement by medical professionals while arguing on the House floor against removing the exemptions.

“Legislation that affects gender affirming care removes an access to care that our children are crying out that they need,” Hamilton said.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, noted that House debates have often focused this year on the value of parental rights. Hansen said this bill actually removes an element of parental approval to pursue treatment in cooperation with medical professionals.

“The bill will make it harder for parents and their kids to make their own healthcare decisions on a topic that’s extremely sensitive and extremely personal,” Hansen said.

He continued, “This bill removes language that requires parents’ consent in order to undertake this type of therapy.”