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Vanderbilt Transgender Health Clinic suspends gender-affirming surgery for minors

<i>Mark Humphrey/AP</i><br/>Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville is pictured on July 16
Mark Humphrey/AP
Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville is pictured on July 16

By Andy Rose, CNN

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s transgender clinic in Nashville has paused gender affirming surgeries for patients under the age of 18, a top executive at the center told a Tennessee lawmaker Friday.

Republican Tennessee state Rep. Jason Zachary — who had asked VUMC to permanently end gender affirming surgeries for minors — posted a letter to Twitter he received from VUMC’s Chief Health System Officer, Dr. C. Wright Pinson.

In the letter, Pinson informs the lawmaker that the nonprofit hospital is “pausing” gender affirmation surgeries on patients under age 18 while it reviews “new recommendations.”

The move came amid pressure from Tennessee’s Republican leaders who sent a letter to the hospital last week requesting that Vanderbilt Medical halt all gender transitioning surgeries on minors.

Gender-affirming care uses a multidisciplinary approach to help a person transition from their assigned gender — the one the person was designated at birth — to the gender by which the person wants to be known.

Pinson said the suspension is due to an ongoing review of new guidance on treating transgender patients issued by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, and notes the review “may take several months,” according to the letter.

A spokesperson for VUMC confirmed to CNN Friday that the letter is legitimate but declined to elaborate further on the clinic’s new policy.

Pinson’s letter said the Transgender Health Clinic, which was established in 2018, has provided surgical services for an average of five minors per year. In all those cases, the patients were at least 16, had parental consent and “none have received genital procedures,” the executive said.

Restrictions on gender affirming procedures for minors have become a contentious political issue in some states, including in Texas, where there’s an ongoing legal battle over whether parents who allow gender affirming care for their children can be investigated for “child abuse.”

Major medical associations — including the American Medical Association — have agreed gender-affirming care is clinically appropriate for children and adults with gender dysphoria, which according to the American Psychiatric Association, is psychological distress that may result when a person’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth do not align.

Last year, the Tennessee state legislature passed a law banning hormone therapy for children who have not reached puberty, and Republican lawmakers are discussing passing additional restrictions next year.

The ACLU of Tennessee released a statement last month condemning legislators’ plans for additional restrictions.

“Parents, patients and medical professionals, not politicians, should decide what medical care is in the best interest of any particular young person,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Kathy Sinback said in a statement. “Medical and mental health treatment for transgender individuals is guided by evidence-based clinical guidelines, as well as existing state law that already regulates health care for trans Tennesseans. Efforts to restrict trans Tennesseans’ access to health care is vast government overreach and ACLU-TN stands ready to fight back against intrusions into the private medical decision-making rights of parents and families when seeking gender-affirming care.”

The VUMC executive’s letter acknowledged the possibility of new legal restrictions on gender affirming care, saying the facility would comply with Tennessee law.

“We understand this issue is likely to be taken up by the General Assembly in its next legislative session,” said Pinson. “As always, we will assure that VUMC’s programs comply with any new requirements which may be established as a part of Tennessee law.”

The letter goes on to say VUMC’s policies “allow employees to request an accommodation to be excused from participating in surgeries or procedures they believe are morally objectionable.” Zachary, in his tweet, characterized this statement as a promise to “honor religious objectors.”

State House Republican leader William Lamberth called VUMC’s decision a “win.”

“This is a win for the safety of our children, but we’re committed to ensuring this never happens in Tennessee again,” Lamberth tweeted.

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