A new documentary on BBC Radio 4 has investigated puberty blockers – the controversial drugs given to children who are confused about their gender.
The drugs were originally designed to pause development in children suffering from ‘precocious puberty’ – where they begin to go through puberty at a very early age.
They are, however, largely untested on healthy children who are given them to aid ‘gender transition’.
Presenter Britt Wray spoke to Dr Stephen Rosenthal, from the Child and Adolescent Gender Center in San Francisco, who is researching the long-term impact of hormone blockers on young people.
He said using drugs to pause puberty in healthy children is a very recent phenomenon, and one which comes with risks including osteoporosis and fertility damage.
He explained that during puberty, the deposition of calcium in the bones increases, but by preventing puberty, the person is at greater risk of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
He also said that research into side-effects was inconclusive at this stage, effectively making the use of puberty blockers in gender-confused children a large-scale experiment.
Diane Ehrensaft, a pro-transgender developmental and clinical psychologist in California, said doctors have an obligation to spell out the implications of puberty blockers on fertility.
She said if patients progress from puberty blockers to cross-sex hormones, “that’s going to compromise, or even eradicate your possibility to create a genetically-related child”.
She explains that if children keep taking puberty blockers, they will never produce viable gametes – sperm for males, and eggs for females.
Professor Gary Butler, a leading consultant at the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service, also urged caution over the drugs.
He warned that early use of puberty blockers interrupts this “maturation and decision making process” and risks “irreversible changes”.
“The whole developmental process for a young person to be able to understand and make competent decisions about their reproductive capacity is something that matures with age”.
Despite the risks, the documentary suggested it is better for gender-confused people to take puberty blockers. However, numerous adults have spoken out about their regret at changing sex.
In 2017, medical student Kate explained how she had injected herself with testosterone bought on the internet, after she came to believe she was ‘trans’.
Although she stopped after 12 months of injections, she has been left with facial hair and a low voice due to the drugs, and is concerned for the current generation of young people.
“A young person now may take hormones and they may even have surgery and later regret it… by giving treatment to young children, we may be perpetrating a great harm and we might look back on this in 30 or 50 years and see it as one of the great medical blunders of the 21st century”.