Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s transgender clinic in Nashville has suspended gender-affirmation surgeries on patients under the age of 18, a top executive at the center told a Tennessee lawmaker on Friday.
Tennessee Republican Rep. Jason Zachary — who has asked VUMC to permanently end sex-confirmation surgeries on minors — posted a letter to Twitter he received from VUMC Health System CEO Dr. C. Wright Pinson.
In the letter, Pinson informed the lawmaker that the nonprofit hospital is “pausing” gender confirmation surgeries on patients under 18 while it reviews the “new recommendations.”
The move came amid pressure from Republican leaders in Tennessee, who sent a letter to the hospital last week request that Vanderbilt Medical is suspending all gender reassignment surgeries on minors.
Gender-affirming care uses a multidisciplinary approach to help a person transition from their assigned gender – the one the person was assigned at birth – to the gender the person wants to be known as.
Pinson said the suspension is due to an ongoing review of new guidelines for the treatment of transgender patients issued by the World Transgender Health Professional Association, and noted the review “may take several months,” according to the letter.
A VUMC spokesperson confirmed to CNN on Friday that the letter was 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, provided surgical services to an average of five minors per year. In all of those cases, the patients were at least 16, had parental consent and “none received genital procedures,” the executive said.
Restrictions on gender confirmation procedures for minors have become a contentious political issue in some states, including Texas, where there is an ongoing legal battle over whether parents who allow their children’s gender confirmation can be investigated for “abuse of children’.
Major medical associations—including the American Medical Association—have agreed that gender-affirming care is clinically appropriate for children and adults with gender dysphoria, which according to the American Psychiatric Association is psychological distress that can occur when a person’s gender identity and gender face set at birth do not align.
Last year, the Tennessee state legislature passed a law banning hormone therapy for children who haven’t reached puberty, and Republican lawmakers are debating whether to pass additional restrictions next year.
The ACLU of Tennessee released a statement last month condemning lawmakers’ 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 Cathy 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 limit trans Tennesseans’ access to health care are massive government overreach, and the ACLU-TN stands ready to fight back against interference with the personal rights of parents and families to make medical decisions when seeking gender-affirming care.”
The letter from VUMC’s executive director acknowledged the possibility of new legal restrictions on gender-affirming care, saying the facility would comply with Tennessee law.
“We understand that this issue will likely be addressed by the General Assembly in its next legislative session,” Pinson said. “As always, we will ensure that VUMC’s programs meet any new requirements that may be established as part of Tennessee law.”
The letter said VUMC policies “allow employees to request accommodations to be excused from participating in operations or procedures they believe are morally objectionable.” Zachary, in his tweet, characterized this statement as a promise to “respect religious opponents.”
State House GOP Leader William Lambert called VUMC’s decision a “victory.”
“This is a victory for the safety of our children, but we are committed to making sure this never happens again in Tennessee,” Lambert tweeted.