The BBC has been heavily criticised by parents and a journalist over an article stating that a High Court ruling on puberty-blocking drugs could cause gender-confused young people to commit suicide.
Last month, senior judges ruled it was “highly unlikely” children 13 and under could ever genuinely consent to hormone blockers, and “very doubtful” 14 and 15-year-olds could do so.
The NHS’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is seeking leave to appeal the ruling, and BBC’s Ben Hunte published an article entitled ‘Puberty blockers: Parents’ warning as ruling challenged’, which ignored advice from Samaritans on media reporting of suicide.
No specialist knowledge
In the original article – which was later edited to remove the suggestion of causation – Hunte reported: “Doctors and parents have told the BBC the ruling could cause distressed trans teens to self-harm or even take their own lives.”
He also quoted GP Dr Adrian Harrop, an LGBT activist with no specialist knowledge in gender dysphoria, who said: “It makes me terribly worried that there is now nothing there for those children, and nothing that can be done to help them.
“Parents are being left at a point where they’re having to struggle to cope with these children who are in a real state of distress and anxiety. Sadly, there is a very real risk of seeing more suicides.”
The article also gave credence to Helen Webberley, a disgraced doctor suspended by the General Medical Council for running GenderGP – an unlicensed transgender clinic for children – and who continues to prescribe the experimental drugs from abroad to circumnavigate UK law.
She claimed: “The mental health implications of this cannot be underestimated, and the risk of self-harm and suicide must be acknowledged.”
However, the article did not quote from Director of GIDS Dr Polly Carmichael, who in 2017 told a medical conference on gender: “I also question the discourse that is being created around young people experiencing gender diversity, that it is unbearable, intolerable.
“This is quite unhelpful. While recognising distress, we need not to be buying into a narrative that is so imbued with negativity and lack of resilience and remember that many of the young people here are coping quite well.”
The Spectator’s James Kirkup said the BBC should be “ashamed” of its coverage of the subject, pointing out that the Samaritans advice to the media warns: “Steer clear of presenting suicidal behaviour as an understandable response to a crisis or adversity. This can contribute to unhelpful and risky normalising of suicide as an appropriate response to distress.”
It also clearly states: “Speculation about the ‘trigger’ or cause of a suicide can oversimplify the issue and should be avoided. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life.”
Kirkup added that GIDS itself said in 2018: “Suicidality in young people attending the GIDS is similar to that of young people referred to child and adolescent mental health services. It is not helpful to suggest that suicidality is an inevitable part of this condition.”
In addition, a study carried out by the clinic found “there was no overall improvement in mood or psychological wellbeing using standardised psychological measures” among young people taking puberty blockers.
The columnist said: “the BBC reported that ‘doctors’ say a court ruling halting the use of puberty blockers could ’cause’ children to commit suicide, on the basis of unevidenced assertions from a non-specialist medic and disgraced doctors who make money selling such drugs.
“It did so without reporting the views of actual experts that such narratives about suicide are misleading and potentially harmful.”
He concluded by again quoting media advice from the Samaritans: “…there is strong and consistent research evidence that some forms of news reporting lead to increases in suicide rates. Media coverage can influence how people behave in a crisis and their beliefs about the options open to them…
“Young people are a particularly vulnerable audience in relation to media coverage of suicide. They are more susceptible to imitational suicidal behaviour and more likely to be influenced by the media than other age groups.”
Parents’ group Transgender Trend berated the BBC over the article in an open letter to the Corporation.
It said: “Mr Hunte repeats throughout the article the unfounded assertion that without puberty blockers children and young people are more likely to attempt suicide.
“He should know, as a BBC journalist, that it is wrong to speculate about the reasons for suicide. The young people and their parents he quotes all talk about suicide and suicidal ideation as if it is a direct result of not being given puberty blockers”, adding there is “no evidence to support this idea”.
The letter also criticised the inclusion of quotes from Webberley, saying: “While this article remains online, and available to readers of any age, the BBC is in danger of promoting unfounded claims about suicide and promoting an off-shore business selling drugs which the High Court has ruled should only be prescribed after applying to court.”