Pediatricians at Odds Over Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Kids

Alicia Ault and Lisa Nainggolan

August 16, 2022

Some members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) say its association leadership is blocking discussion about a resolution asking for a "rigorous systematic review" of gender-affirming care guidelines.

At issue is 2018 guidance that states children can undergo hormonal therapy after they are deemed appropriate candidates following a thorough mental health evaluation.

Critics say minors under age 18 may be getting "fast-tracked" to hormonal treatment too quickly or inappropriately and can end up regretting the decision and facing medical conditions like sterility.

Five AAP members, which has a total membership of around 67,000 pediatricians in the United States and Canada, this year penned Resolution 27, calling for a possible update of the guidelines following consultation with stakeholders that include mental health and medical clinicians, parents, and patients "with diverse views and experiences."

Those members and others in written comments on a members-only website accuse the AAP of deliberately silencing debate on the issue and changing resolution rules. Any AAP member can submit a resolution for consideration by the group's leadership at its annual policy meeting.

This year, the AAP sent an email to members stating it would not allow comments on resolutions that had not been "sponsored" by one of the group's 66 chapters or 88 internal committees, councils, or sections.

That's why comments were not allowed on Resolution 27, said Mark Del Monte, the AAP's CEO. A second attempt to get sponsorship during the annual leadership forum, held earlier this month in Chicago, also failed, he noted. Del Monte told Medscape Medical News that changes to the resolution process are made every year and that no rule changes were directly associated with Resolution 27.

But one of the resolution's authors said there was sponsorship when members first drafted the suggestion. Julia Mason, MD, a board member for the Society for Evidence-based Gender Medicine (SEGM) and a pediatrician in private practice in Gresham, Oregon, says an AAP chapter president agreed to second Resolution 27 but backed off after attending a different AAP meeting. Mason did not name the member.

On August 10, AAP President Moira Szilagyi, MD, PhD, wrote in a blog on the AAP website — after the AAP leadership meeting in Chicago — that the lack of sponsorship "meant no one was willing to support their proposal."

The AAP Leadership Council's 154 voting entities approved 48 resolutions at the meeting, all of which will be referred to the AAP Board of Directors for potential, but not definite, action as the Board only takes resolutions under advisement, Del Monte notes.

In an email allowing members to comment on a resolution (number 28) regarding education support for caring for transgender patients, 23 chose to support Resolution 27 instead.

"I am wholeheartedly in support of Resolution 27, which interestingly has been removed from the list of resolutions for member comment," one comment read. "I can no longer trust the AAP to provide medical evidence-based education with regard to care for transgender individuals." 

"We don't need a formal resolution to look at the evidence around the care of transgender young people. Evaluating the evidence behind our recommendations, which the unsponsored resolution called for, is a routine part of the Academy's policy-writing process," wrote Szilagyi in her blog.

Del Monte says that "the 2018 policy is under review now."

So far, "the evidence that we have seen reinforces our policy that gender-affirming care is the correct approach," Del Monte stresses. "It is supported by every mainstream medical society in the world and is the standard of care," he maintains.

Among those societies is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which in the draft of its latest Standards of Care (SOC8) — the first new guidance on the issue for 10 years — reportedly lowers the age for "top surgery" to 15 years.

The final SOC8 will most likely be published to coincide with WPATH's annual meeting in September in Montreal.

Opponents plan to protest outside the AAP's annual meeting, in Anaheim in October, Mason says.

"I'm concerned that kids with a transient gender identity are being funneled into medicalization that does not serve them," Mason says. "I am worried that the trans identity is valued over the possibility of desistance," she adds, admitting that her goal is to have fewer children transition gender.

Last summer, AAP found itself in hot water on the same topic when it barred SEGM from having a booth at the AAP annual meeting in 2021, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

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