Sen. Rubio grills NIH over lack of data supporting its push to give puberty blockers to kids

A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016. |

Concerns regarding the harms of prescribing puberty blockers to children have prompted questions about the Biden administration's support for the use of such experimental drugs and cross-sex hormones for youth exhibiting gender confusion.

During a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla, pressed Lawrence Tabak, acting director of the National Institutes of Health, about the agency's research to determine if the use of non-FDA approved puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are safe for children and teenagers who suffer from gender dysphoria.

Tabak said the "NIH funds a small number of observational studies to gather the data on the effects of treatments that transgender youth and their parents have chosen. But all of the research in this space is observational. We do no interventional work."

The acting NIH director added that "Researchers are observing longer term psychological impact of these protocols." 

"And so, by looking at individuals, transgender youth with and without histories of puberty suppression, we will be able to better answer the types of questions that you're posing," he continued. 

Rubio highlighted how policymakers are promoting and puberty blockers for youth without insight into the "long term implications" of such interventions and weighing the "cost and the benefits." 

"We clearly don't want anybody harming themselves … but … these policy decisions are being made on the basis of observational guidance and, by your own admission, without any sort of long term trajectory on its holistic impact," the Florida senator said. 

The Biden administration released multiple documents on March 31 — a date referred to by trans activists as the "Transgender Day of Visibility" — advocating for the use of cross-sex hormones, puberty blockers and body mutilation surgeries, including removing breast tissue in healthy girls and castration for boys (orchidectomy to remove both testicles or a vaginoplasty in which the penis is also removed). 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Population Affairs released a document titled "Gender Affirming Care and Young People." The document describes so-called "early gender-affirming care" for non-binary or trans-identified minors "crucial" to their "overall health and well-being." 

HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Child Traumatic Stress Network released a document titled "Gender-Affirming Care Is Trauma-Informed Care" which claims that giving experimental drugs and cross-sex hormones to children are part of "evidenced-based interventions."

Parents whose children were harmed by the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones warn that these risky interventions are often irreversible. In 2019, the nonpartisan Kelsey Coalition filed a petition and requested that then-U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams raise awareness about the dangers of giving cross-sex hormones to teens and allowing them to undergo operations to remove their breasts or genitals. 

"An increasing number of 'informed consent' clinics provide cross-sex hormones to young people after only one or two visits. These clinics do not require mental or physical health assessments. Surgeries may be obtained within months," the petition reads."

The document also warned about the long term health repercussions, citing a 2019 American Heart Association cohort study of around 6,000 trans-identifying adults that showed significant risks to their cardiovascular health. Trans-identifying males faced a five times greater risk of developing venous thromboembolism, and trans-identifying females were three times as likely to have heart attacks. 

Michael Laidlaw, an endocrinologist from Rocklin, California, told The Christian Post in a 2019 interview that "mega-doses of testosterone are being given to teenage girls, some 10 to 40 times higher than what is normal for their body. Is it any wonder that follow-up studies in adults have shown an increased risk of myocardial infarction and death at these doses?"

"Puberty is not a disease," Laidlaw said. 

The endocrinologist referred to puberty blockers as a form of "chemical conversion therapy" during an April 2019 panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He noted that Lupron, used to treat prostate cancer patients and children with precocious puberty, has never been through an FDA-approved process for blocking normal puberty and is prescribed off-label. 

Laidlaw added that puberty-blocking drugs can put children at risk of osteoporosis by disrupting normal brain and bone development. He also noted that Oxford professor Michael Biggs in England learned through a freedom of information request that at the Tavistock gender clinic, children reported greater self-harm with these particular medications. In addition, girls exhibited greater emotional problems and dissatisfaction with their bodies. 

During his presentation, Laidlaw showed a video clip of Ilana Sherer and Johanna Olson-Kennedy. Sherer explained that children receive puberty blockers at age 8 or 9, and Olson-Kennedy discussed a $5.7 million research grant she received through the NIH.

One of her publications shows that elective mastectomies have been performed on girls as young as 13. In the clip, Olson-Kennedy claimed that children are capable of making life-altering decisions, such as choosing to remove their breasts.

Last year, the National Health Service in England removed the claim that puberty blockers prescribed to trans-identifying youth are "fully reversible." The changes came after an individual who underwent these experimental treatments filed a lawsuit against the Tavistock and Portman National Health Service Trust in London. 

The NHS guidelines previously stated that puberty blockers were reversible. The revised guidelines removed the words "fully reversible" and warn that the long term side effects of hormone or puberty blockers on children are relatively unknown.

The woman who filed the suit, Keira Bell, now in her 20s, was given puberty-suppressing drugs and cross-sex hormones during her mid-teens. Bell said the experimental treatment caused irreparable harm to her body, and said minors are incapable of consenting to such interventions. 

"The treatment needs to change so that it does not put young people, like me, on a torturous and unnecessary path that is permanent and life-changing," Bell said.

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