Vanderbilt University Medical Center is temporarily halting gender-affirming surgeries on patients under the age of 18 while it reviews new national recommendations for treating transgender patients, the deputy chief executive and director of the hospital health system in a letter to Tennessee Rep. Jason Zachary on Friday.
So far, the hospital’s transgender health clinic has performed an annual average of five surgeries on minors aged 16 and over – none of which were genital surgeries, the deputy chief executive’s letter said. and Health System Director, Dr. C. Wright Pinson.
Pinson’s letter served as a response to demands last week from Zachary and 61 other members of the House Republican Caucus that the medical center immediately halt permanent gender-affirming surgeries on minors. Lawmakers said they were “alarmed” by reports from a far-right publication, the Daily Wire, that the clinic was performing “surgical mutilation” on minors.
“It is a glaring error in judgment that an institution as respected as Vanderbilt condones (and promotes) harmful and irreversible procedures for minor children in the name of profit,” said the Sept. 28 letter sent by Republicans. The letter demanded a response from Vanderbilt within 10 days.
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh first published edited video clips of Vanderbilt staff discussing transgender surgery last month: One depicts a doctor calling him a “big money maker”, although does not mention minors; in another, a Vanderbilt plastic surgeon discussed “peak surgeries” on 16- and 17-year-old patients who took testosterone and had parental permission. Another clip showed a Vanderbilt law professor saying “conscientious objections” to gender-affirming surgery were “problematic”.
Republican leaders in Tennessee were quick to express their outrage, pledging to introduce legislation banning gender-affirming surgery for minors. Governor Bill Lee said the allegations warrant a “full investigation”.
Democrats pushed back, saying “hate” was being used “for political purposes”.
“Parents should be able to make decisions about the health of their children. This is something Republicans claim to stand for, but refuse to acknowledge when it comes to transition care,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Vanderbilt has been quiet since the controversy emerged. Hospital officials simply noted that the health care provided to transgender children is “in accordance with state law and consistent with proactive professional standards and guidance established by medical specialty societies,” but declined to comment. answer specific questions.
The clinic’s website, which included photos and contact details of clinic staff, was immediately removed. STAT News reported that at least 20 children’s hospitals across the country have been singled out by right-wing pundits and that all but three have edited or removed information from websites, in part to protect staff and patients. doctors against threats.
Similar social media campaigns regarding transgender care for minors have led to threats of violence against staff and doctors. Earlier this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and Children’s Hospital Association, writing on behalf of 220 children’s hospitals, urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to “investigate organizations, individuals and entities that coordinate, provoke and execute bomb threats”. and threats of personal violence against children’s hospitals and doctors across the United States”
On Friday, a VUMC spokesperson referred Lookout questions to Zachary’s Tweet about Pinson’s letter.
Please see Vanderbilt Medical’s response to the @tnhousegop.
VUMC has agreed to suspend gender transition surgeries on minors and honor religious objectors. https://t.co/xXlbSaAOMS pic.twitter.com/4G8laJfQfY
— Rep. Jason Zachary (@JasonZacharyTN) October 7, 2022
The letter notes that Vanderbilt established its Transgender Health Clinic in 2018 “because transgender people are at high risk for mental and physical health issues and have historically been underserved by our nation’s health care systems.”
Pinson’s letter does not specify how many minors have been treated at the clinic, but does note that only a small number of surgeries are performed on minors each year — and all of them on teenagers who are at least 16 years old. None of the surgeries were performed without parental consent and none of the surgeries involved genital procedures, the letter states.
Revenue from these surgeries constitutes “an intangible percentage of VUMC’s net operating revenue,” the letter states. Pinson noted that VUMC’s policies allow employees to be excluded from medical care they deem morally wrong.
Vanderbilt is nonetheless halting those surgeries while he considers new recommendations from WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, released Sept. 6, the letter says.
“We are suspending gender-affirming surgeries on patients under the age of 18 while we complete this review, which may take several months,” the letter reads.
The pause can become indefinite. Pinson acknowledged that GOP lawmakers intend to introduce legislation regarding transgender care, which could pass as soon as the Legislature resumes in January.
“As always, we will ensure that VUMC’s programs comply with any new requirements that may be established under Tennessee law,” Pinson said.