The care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity in the UK

Current Project

Current project

This project will explore the ethical, social, and legal issues associated with the care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity.

A transfeminine non binary person and transmasculine gender nonconforming person looking at a phone and laughing

Increasing numbers of young people and their families in the UK have been seeking advice and support in relation to gender identity issues in recent years. In autumn 2019, we spoke to a wide range of individuals about the challenges involved in providing care and treatment for young people in relation to their gender identity. From those meetings, it is clear that there are many areas of consensus, but there are also a number of unresolved ethical questions that deserve further consideration. We aim to explore these in more detail through this work.

About the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body that informs policy and public debate about the ethical questions raised by biological and medical research. We do this by bringing together individuals from different disciplines to consider and deliberate on ethical issues raised by advances in biological and health research. Our aim is to ensure that scientific and medical developments are realised in ways that are ethical and consistent with public interests and values.

We have an international reputation for providing independent and balanced advice to policy-makers and stimulating debate in bioethics. Our work is always backed up by a thorough process of consultation, engagement, and deliberation with a wide range of people and organisations.

You can find out more about how we work; the values that guide us; and previous topics we have explored here.

About this project

The aim of this project is to explore the ethical issues which arise in the care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity. This is an area in which there are deeply held scientific and moral disagreements about how we as a society should care for, treat, and support gender diverse children and adolescents.

Through this work we aim to explore some of the issues which underline those disagreements, including:

  • different understandings of gender dysphoria and how this affects approaches to care and treatment;
  • differing interpretations of the existing evidence base and what this means for clinical practice;
  • current approaches to care and treatment, including pharmacological interventions, gender affirmation, and social transition;
  • the balancing of different types of benefits and harms in treatment and non-treatment; and
  • ideas about autonomy, choice, and the decision-making capacity of children and young people.

We recognise that these ethical questions do not arise in a vacuum, and so it is also important to us to understand the social and political context within which these questions are situated.

Our aim is to create an independent space in which to hear a range of views and perspectives, and to provide a detailed and robust ethical analysis of the issues. Our work will contribute information and insight on these issues to inform and support practitioners and policy-makers, contribute to the broader public debate, and, ultimately, improve the well-being of gender diverse and gender incongruent children and adolescents by ensuring they receive ethical, appropriate, and high-quality care.

Our approach

Gathering evidence is a major part of all our projects. We thoroughly research each topic and consider a wide range of views.

The focus of this work is on wide and comprehensive engagement and consultation with individuals and groups in order to ensure we hear a range of perspectives and experiences. We will be doing this in a number of ways.

As a first step, we have launched an open call for evidence (also available to download from the left-hand side of the page), which is open to anybody with an interest in this topic who wishes to respond. The responses to the call for evidence will allow us to see the spread of views on this issue and start to identify emerging themes.

This will be followed by more focused and targeted engagement with relevant groups and individuals - through meetings, interviews, and other events and activities.

These activities will take place over the space of many months. Our aim is to conclude the project and produce a final report in early 2022.

Particularly important to us is hearing from children and young people themselves, as well as their families and others close to them who support them.

If you are interested in being involved in the project in this way, or would like to find out more, please email gender@nuffieldbioethics.org.

You can find out more about how we approach our work here.

Project team

Ruth Campbell

Ruth Campbell

Programme Manager

Ruth is responsible for the Council’s active response programme and its horizon scanning work. Prior to joining the Council in May 2020, she was a Senior Policy Advisor in Medical Ethics and Human Rights at the British Medical Association. She has a BA in Jurisprudence from the University of Oxford and an MA in Medical Ethics and Law from King’s College London.

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