Alberta Medical Association pediatrics head condemns province’s proposed trans policy

Click to play video: 'How could Danielle Smith’s transgender policy proposals impact Alberta’s UCP?'
How could Danielle Smith’s transgender policy proposals impact Alberta’s UCP?
WATCH: How could Danielle Smith’s transgender policy proposals impact Alberta’s UCP? – Feb 4, 2024

The Alberta Medical Association says the Alberta government’s new policies will reinforce stigma against trans youth, adding more strain to the province’s mental health-care system.

The United Conservative government’s proposed policy, which was announced on social media Wednesday, will prohibit all gender-affirming surgeries for minors aged 17 and under.

Currently, the required age for genital reconstruction surgery (GRS) is 18 years of age and the required age for masculinization of the torsosurgery (mastectomy) is 16 years of age.

Albertans younger than 18 are not eligible for bottom surgery funding through the Gender Surgery Program. More than 100 people were approved for funding between 2020 to 2021, the majority of them are between the ages of 18 to 25. Around 89 people were approved for funding between 2022 and 2023, the majority of them also between the ages of 18 to 25.

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In 2022, 26 Albertans younger than 18 years old received top surgery and in 2023, 23 Albertans younger than 18 years received top surgery.

Alberta Health does not track whether these surgeries are related to gender identity or for medical reasons, such as cancer or breast reduction due to pain.

“It saddens us to see this,” said Dr. Sam Wong, head of the pediatrics section with the AMA. “It’s not something that we want to see happen to this group of pediatric patients.”

The association issued a statement this week calling for the Alberta government to reconsider its position on trans-affirming health care.

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“Professionally, it angers us as pediatricians. Why is the government interfering with the therapeutic relationship between the patient, the parents and the physician care team?” Wong said.

He says much of what the Alberta government is trying to impose is “overreach” into the lives of Alberta families.

“We are actually taking away parents’ rights by doing what they are proposing because they are taking away the parent’s right to make a decision on medical therapy for their child that the parents have deemed necessary in conjunction with the patient and the physician care team,” Wong said.

The province says some of these policies will be implemented through regulation and ministerial orders and others may need legislation.

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Global News reached out to the premier’s office with requests for a response.

“In addition, some policy implementation will require consultation and feedback from various stakeholders. The premier and cabinet will work together through this process with the goal of having these policies fully implemented by the end of the year,” said Justin Brattinga, senior press secretary for the Ministry of Technology and Innovation.

The new policy will also forbid access to puberty blockers and hormone therapy for gender-affirming care for youth aged 15 years and younger, except for those who have already started those treatments.

“I think people are confusing the two things and people have to be clear – there are puberty blockers and then there’s hormone therapy and we think that puberty blockers are useful to give patients extra time to think about what their decision is going to be over the next couple of years,” Wong said.

Wong said puberty blockers are used for somebody who has gender dysphoria and wants to identify with another gender.

“We use puberty blockers to stop puberty once it starts so they are allowed to stay in a state of stasis so puberty does not progress, and that allows them a few years to think about their decision and whether they want to move forward with more gender-affirming care or whether they want to stop the puberty blockers and restart puberty,” he said.

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He said the effects of puberty-blocking agents are reversible.

“Once treatment stops, puberty (happens). Puberty blocking actually has benefits for gender-divergent patients by preventing the development of mature secondary sex characteristics so that later in life, the most invasive gender-affirming surgery may not be necessary if the patient moves forward with gender-affirming care,” Wong said.

The AMA is also raising concerns about a lack of consultation with the medical community.

Wong is calling this a distraction from healthcare problems in Alberta

“Why are they talking about this issue when there are so many other issues going on in health care? Why are they picking on this patient at this particular point in time? Where are the priorities?” Wong said.

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