Judges overrule NHS trust in landmark consent case

Children as young as 10 had been allowed to consent to experimental puberty-suppressing treatment

An English NHS trust’s Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) had been prescribing puberty blockers to children as young as 10 suffering from gender dysphoria, a condition where persons experience distress because of a mismatch between their perceived identity and their sex at birth.

The claimant brought a judicial review in the High Court, claiming that children and young persons under 18 do not have the competence to consent to such treatment.

The court held that:

“A child under 16 may only consent to the use of medication intended to suppress puberty where he or she is competent to understand the nature of the treatment. That includes an understanding of the immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment, the limited evidence available as to its efficacy or purpose, the fact that the vast majority of patients proceed to the use of cross-sex hormones, and its potential life changing consequences for a child. There will be enormous difficulties in a child under 16 understanding and weighing up this information and deciding whether to consent to the use of puberty blocking medication. It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers. It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.

See summary judgment below.

For the full judgment click here.

R-on-the-application-of-Quincy-Bell-and-A-v-Tavistock-and-Portman-NHS-Trust-and-others2020-EWHC-3274Admin