Published: 31 August 2016
Author: Danae Lekakis

Legal reform on transgender hormone treatment overdue?

It can be a difficult, costly and drawn-out legal process for many transgender young people trying to access some of the medical treatments they need to become, simply, themselves. 

Stage 2 hormone treatment – the use of estrogen or testosterone – is classed as one of the special medical procedures that requires Family Court approval before it can be used as a treatment for transgender young people ready to transition.

Australia is the only country in the world that requires Court approval for this treatment for transgender young people.

The role of the Family Court

The role of the Family Court is to consider whether the child has the competency to consent to the treatment. If the child is held not competent to consent, then the Court will decide whether the procedure is in the child’s best interests.

Written evidence of psychiatrists, medical experts, the child’s parents and sometimes the child is relied upon and considered by the Court to reach a decision.

Gathering the evidence and waiting for a court date can be a long and expensive process, often taking months for a hearing and costing families thousands of dollars.

Time for reform?

Victorian teenager Georgie Stone bravely shared her experience of this process recently with ABC’s Australian Story. For Georgie, the time delays of the court process had a significant impact on herself and her family.

Georgie is now lobbying for change to ensure other transgender young people don’t have to go through the difficult and legalistic process she did, at such a critical time in their lives at the precipice of puberty.

Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant, agrees that it can be a difficult and stressful process, and says we need to rethink how courts handle cases involving transgender teens to find a simpler and more consistent method for dealing with such matters.

Where all parties consent to the treatment and medical professionals agree, perhaps the Court’s role should not impact so onerously on the child.

It is clear that concerns relating to the consequences for the treatment decisions for a young person with gender dysphoria, particularly the irreversibility or partial irreversibility of Stage 2 hormone treatment need to be met.

However, such concerns must be appropriately weighed against the serious consequences of denying a young person access to treatment, and the costs of imposing a requirement to seek court authorisation.

Links and References:

Report on legal responses for transgender young people

Legal Toolkit for parents of transgender children developed by La Trobe University

Australian Story: About a Girl by ABC

RCT blog on Gender dysphoria

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