By State Representative Paul Schemel
Governor Tom Wolf recently made a name for himself by signing an executive order that he says will “protect” Pennsylvania residents from the boogeyman of conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy is loosely defined as medical or psychological treatment intended to help a person with same-sex attraction realign to a heterosexual orientation. Although conversion therapy is frequently associated with long discredited practices such as electric shocks or food depravity, these techniques were abandoned in the 1970s.
Conversion therapy can also refer to a method of psychotherapy called talk therapy, where an individual explores feelings and emotions with a therapist seeking “realignment” with a heterosexual orientation. There are several academic studies demonstrating the general ineffectiveness of conversion therapy as a “treatment” for homosexuality, which is why this form of therapy is almost non-existent today.
Governor Wolf’s executive order resurrects the old view of conversion therapy and dramatically expands its definition to include “protections” for all sorts of other identities, including children with gender dysphoria, a condition more commonly referred to as transgender. . Under the governor’s order, children who claim to be transgender must be affirmed in their new gender identity, a method of treatment known as the Dutch Protocol or “affirmation therapy.”
Affirmation therapy begins with accepting and supporting a child’s “new” identity and, in most cases, leads to the prescription of drugs to block their natural puberty, followed by cross-sex hormones, which give it certain permanent outward characteristics of its non-biological state. genre. These are potent drugs prescribed off-label with little long-term research to ensure safety. Understandably, many parents have reservations about affirmation therapy.
Governor Wolf would have us believe that affirmation therapy is so universally accepted by medical and mental health professionals that any physician, psychologist, or counselor who uses traditional therapeutic approaches to treat gender dysphoric children is a purveyor of conversion therapy and “junk science” and therefore must be stopped using the full force of the government. However, the world of gender science is not as stable as the Governor claims.
In 2020, I held a series of House Health Care Subcommittee hearings. These hearings were intended to inform the General Assembly of the debate within the medical and psychological community regarding the appropriate treatment for gender dysphoric children. The subcommittee heard from four physicians with significant experience in this area.
Two of the controls, both psychiatrists, supported affirmation therapy, while the other two, a psychiatrist and a pediatric endocrinologist, were not. In addition to hearing expert testimony, the subcommittee also reviewed hundreds of pages of data, peer-reviewed journal articles, and studies conducted by government agencies in several countries.
What the subcommittee’s work revealed is that the scientific field surrounding affirmation therapy is far from settled. Although many major medical associations and journals promote affirmation therapy, scientists and researchers with evidence challenging this approach report being marginalized, prevented from presenting their research, or denied the opportunity to publish their work. In a world that generally welcomes critical contributions, the dissenting voices of scientists and physicians who disagree with the latest trend are being silenced.
The governor’s order extends the same barrier to dissent on healthcare professionals here in Pennsylvania.
Governor Wolf is doubling down on affirmation therapy, calling it “medically necessary” and ordering state agencies to investigate providers and insurance companies that don’t toe the affirmation therapy line. The governor’s order prevents the use of state resources for any method of treatment the governor considers “conversion therapy,” which he says is any treatment that doesn’t accept the governor’s claim. a child that he is transgender. That may be the Governor’s view, but it leaves no room for traditional treatment approaches such as watchful waiting and psychotherapy, both of which are well-researched and commonly used by professionals in the field.
What does this mean concretely? The governor’s gag order severely limits the options available to parents by threatening the very professionals that families with troubled children rely on for help. Although some families embrace affirmation therapy for their children, others do not. Now, parents looking for options won’t find any in Pennsylvania.
This executive order is another example of Governor Wolf’s brand of autocratic rule, repeating the same “I know what’s best for you” approach rejected by voters in the 2020 referendum verifying his emergency powers.
The sad effects of the Governor’s most recent initiative will only become apparent when today’s children grow into adults and find themselves permanently scarred and lifelong customers of the pharmaceutical companies that supply their hormones. Until then, Governor Wolf will enjoy his retirement as families deprived of options today pick up the pieces of their children’s shattered lives.
Representative Paul Schemel represents the 90th legislative district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He is chair of the House Health Committee’s Sub-Committee on Health Care.