Should Gender Affirmation Surgery be Available to Minors?

Should Gender Affirmation Surgery be Available to Minors?

Daniel Scarmack, Sophomore Staff Writer

       Nowadays, the number of people identifying as the opposite gender from that of their biological sex assigned at birth is on the rise, and the age at which this recognition is admitted is becoming lower and lower. Having to live with this frustrating gender identity situation without an immediate solution can often lead to gender dysphoria (strong discomfort or distress). According to a Cedars-Sinai study: “Gender dysphoria manifests early in childhood and can persist for years before patients undergo counseling and treatment.”  When someone identifies as the opposite gender, but continues live with their birth assigned sex, this stress can cause great sadness and pain.  In this situation, many adults would choose to have a special procedure called Gender Affirmation Surgery. 

       Gender Affirmation Surgery physically alters the transgender’s (someone in a male body who identifies as female, and vice versa) body in order for the patient to physically appear exactly the same as their identifying gender. The problem occurs when a minor wants to undergo this surgery. Presently, this surgery is available to anyone older than 18, but many are pushing for a change that would allow this surgery at a younger age. Feelings are split on this topic, and the division has been exacerbated by political divides. The idea of this surgery is considered morally offensive to some, but this isn’t about what religious beliefs people have or personal philosophies, it is about what is best for the next generation of people, and for those suffering from gender dysphoria. This isn’t a problem that can be easily solved, but there is a recommended  answer that is found to be best, not because of personal beliefs, but because it is medically supported. To make this more clear, this is a question that can only be answered by ignoring one’s own beliefs, and finding the conclusion that is most medically sound for today’s youth. 

       To allow a minor to be able to decide if he/she wants a surgery that can never be reversed at a time when a young person’s brain is still developing would be an incredibly irresponsible action to perform.  Tony Cox, an NPR journalist, interviewed Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist and co-author of the book Welcome to Your Child’s Brain.  She states: “Critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so,”  Still, others believe that there is a medically opposing side to this issue.

       When asked if a minor whose brain isn’t fully developed should be allowed to make decisions that affect the rest of his life, Kevin McKinney (Grade 11) explained, “I feel like this shouldn’t even be a question. We’re expected to make decisions that affect our future on a long term scale every single day, so what’s different about it? Like I’m 16, and a junior, so I’m looking at colleges already, and I’m pressured on knowing what I want to do after high school. You’re not born with the idea that you need to go to college, but you are born with genitalia. So why is it so unacceptable to do something that would make someone feel more comfortable in their own body? The subjects of college and gender affirmation completely different, but one subject  is more important than the other. And I personally don’t feel good about trying to prohibit others from becoming who they want to be, because that’s what growing up is all about.” 

      This reporter then sought the opinion of an adult faculty member here at HHS.  Mrs. Kesha Szeljack, French teacher, when asked, “How responsible is it to allow a minor to make a decision that can drastically change the rest of his or her life?”  responded by saying, “I think it’s important to mitigate the damage of decisions that young people (minors) make when we can, in ways that can help keep them safe and in ways that allow them to maximize the number of opportunities they have for their future. However, it would be naïve to believe that we, as adults, can prevent long-term ramifications of someone else’s decisions entirely. There have always been and will always be the possibility for a minor to make a life-altering decision that may have a negative consequence for his or her future, even accidentally. I think one of our most important responsibilities as adults in the lives of young people is that they have respectful, trustworthy adults who can model healthy behaviors, healthy decision-making and healthy, positive relationships. Although nobody is perfect at this, as we are all human, it is what we should aspire to be as role models in the hopes of preventing some of those damaging decisions.” 

      These two somewhat contradictory opinions is a perfect representation of why gender affirmation is an incredibly complicated subject; everyone has different opinions regarding minors making such a life-changing decision. 

      Although not everyone will ever come to a conclusion that is accepted by all, there is an option that combines the best of both worlds. It involves using hormone halting drugs to force one’s body to not develop in one way or the other; instead the body stays the same as when the drugs are started. This condition  is completely reversible and has no harmful effects on the patient. This may be a perfect solution to the problem because it allows those possibly determining a gender change  to wait until he or she can completely reach a conclusion that is best.  Jason Rafferty, MD, MPH, EdM, FAAP, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at the Adolescent Healthcare Center at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island states,Gonadotropin-releasing hormones have been used to delay puberty since the 1980s.” So these drugs have been around for over 40 years and could be taken advantage of because they allow for more decision making time that can’t be achieved any other way. 

     Still, this is a topic with no easy answer; one that many may continue to debate for years to come.