HHS Can’t Provide Science to Back Up ‘Gender-Affirming Care’ Claims

HHS Can’t Provide Science to Back Up ‘Gender-Affirming Care’ Claims

  • February 8, 2024
Agency produces just one document to support controversial procedures for minors

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is facing another complaint from government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) regarding its failure to uphold scientific integrity principles and promoting policy and special interest agendas over science. Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH) Admiral Rachel Levine has made a series of statements promoting controversial treatments for minors while PPT was able to obtain evidence that the science backing up these statements is razor-thin, falling well short of the standards the Biden administration claims to abide by.

Adm. Levine has made numerous unequivocal statements regarding “gender-affirming care” for minors, arguing that children and teenagers cannot and should not have to wait to undergo gender transition therapy until they become adults. In addition to declaring the treatments to be “medically necessary, safe and effective,” the ASH is on record claiming:

There is no argument among medical professionals – pediatricians, pediatric endocrinologists, adolescent medicine physicians, adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, et cetera – about the value and the importance of gender-affirming care.

Questioning such unequivocal statements is, in Adm. Levine’s words, “unconscionable” and “ideologically and politically motivated.”

Upon learning of these statements, PPT submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking “records of scientific evidence, studies, and/or data to support the Assistant Secretary’s claim that ’gender-affirming care’ is medically necessary, safe, and effective for trans and non-binary youth,” as well as “records of surveys of medical professionals regarding the value and importance of ‘gender-affirming care’ for minor children.”

It took a lawsuit to get HHS to provide any records to support the Assistant Secretary’s claims. In the end, rather than reams of data and mountains of studies, all HHS was able to provide was a single, two-page information sheet that was publicly available on the HHS website.

Meanwhile, government health organizations in the U.K., Norway, Finland, and Sweden have taken seriously studies that question the necessity and safety of these treatments. England closed its only clinic dedicated to transgender treatments last year after the National Health Services concluded that its staff used an “unquestioning affirmative approach” to these life-changing, irreversible treatments for kids who are “are just going through a phase.”

Ironically, the “unquestioning affirmative approach” has been promoted by Assistant Secretary Levine and other leaders at HHS. They make unequivocal statements regarding the necessity, safety, and effectiveness of gender-affirming care, but when asked to show their work, the agency is unable to back them up with anything other than one information sheet with a few cherry-picked studies.

“It’s telling that Assistant Secretary Levine ascribes ‘ideological and political’ motives to anyone asking for evidence to back up claims of the unqualified success and safety of gender transition treatments for minors,” Michael Chamberlain, director of PPT said. “But skepticism, data, and evidence are part of the backbone of scientific discovery and integrity. Not only are a growing body of research and the reactions of health authorities abroad appearing to move 180 degrees in the opposite direction of the Assistant Secretary and HHS, but the agency is unable to produce a significant collection of science in support of these claims. It is just one more example of this once-venerated agency drifting far from its ideals and squandering the public’s trust.”  

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