The Court of Appeal have overruled the Bell v Tavistock judgement. This is good news for young trans people under 18. It means that they are no longer legally obliged to get permission from the court to receive puberty blockers.
It is also good news for other young people whose ability to make choices about medical treatments rests on “Gillick competency”.
“Gillick competency” is based on a legal case in 1985 in which Victoria Gillick was defeated in her attempt to rescind NHS guidance which allowed under 18s to access contraception without parental approval. The original Bell v Tavistock judgement put that precedent under threat.
By her own account Keira Bell had a difficult family life as a teenager. Like many teenagers going through puberty, she struggled with her identity. She wanted medical treatment to help her transition to be a man. Now she regrets those decisions, and feels the Tavistock clinic did not support her enough, did not explore the other options before starting medical management.
It is certainly true that the NHS provides a woefully inadequate service to trans people, and the original court case highlighted many failings by the Tavistock. But it is not true that it is easy for trans teenagers to access puberty blockers. The waiting lists are so long (and will remain so long after the new ruling) that many end puberty before getting treatment.
Going through puberty is often difficult. Eating disorders, self-harm, and other mental health issues continue to increase among teenagers. Many teenagers struggle with their identity. It is right that medical professionals should carefully assess a teenager’s ability to consent before starting medical treatment for gender dysphoria.
But the great majority of teenagers do not identify as trans. The stigma against trans people is such that many are only just beginning to have the courage to transition.
Kiera’s solicitors are Sinclairslaw. The same firm is acting for Heidi Crowter, who has Down’s syndrome — she’s legally challenging what she sees as “abortion discrimination” against disabled people. The case is being widely supported by Christian organisations hoping to undermine access to abortion.
They are pursuing an agenda where teenagers need to be “protected” from trans people. This often going along with the belief that women and lesbians also need to be “protected” from trans people, and women, especially sex workers, must be “protected” against men.
As socialists we are for liberty. We want people to be empowered to decide things for themselves and to call in help and protection when they need it, and not necessarily from the state. Even when the “protectors” mean well, such protection can often result in oppression.