HHS Struggles to Back Transgender Claims

HHS building | Image by Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided only two pages of documentation to back a department official’s claims that cross-sex procedures are “necessary” for children who identify as transgender.

The department provided a two-page document to a non-profit watchdog, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The FOIA asked for “records of scientific evidence, studies, and/or data to support … Assistant Secretary [Rachel Levine’s] claim that ‘gender-affirming care is medically necessary, safe, and effective for trans and non-binary youth'” and “records of surveys of medical professionals regarding the value and importance of ‘gender-affirming care’ for minor children.”

The provided document was titled “Gender-Affirming Care and Young People.” It was published by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) as a brochure, not a scientific study. The brochure claims that “research demonstrates that gender-affirming care improves the mental health and overall well-being of gender-diverse children.”

It cited one study to back its claims. The study alleges that 51% of the minors assessed were still suicidal after being given transgender hormones. In contrast, some 62% of minors who wanted such hormones but did not receive them were suicidal.

PPT responded to the returned FOIA by filing a complaint with the HHS Inspector General, as reported by The Daily Wire. The complaint demands the agency launch an investigation into whether Levine, who identifies as transgender, violated scientific integrity policies through a misrepresentation of scientific research.

“This suggests that Assistant Secretary Levine has constantly, continually, ‘everywhere I go,’ made unequivocal statements regarding the medical necessity, safety, and effectiveness of gender-affirming care based entirely upon a single two-page document,” the group wrote in the complaint.

“When asked for ‘records of scientific evidence, studies, and/or data’ and for ‘records of surveys of medical professionals’ to support these claims, HHS was able to provide only a single information sheet — essentially a piece of marketing material with cherry-picked data and agenda-driven assertions,” the complaint continued. “This is the opposite of science and evidence-based policymaking and flies in the face of the agency’s pledge of ‘adherence to professional practices, ethical behavior, and the principles of honesty and objectivity when conducting, managing, using the results of, and communicating about science and scientific activities.'”

HHS did not respond to a request for comment.

Levine has repeatedly stressed that children who identify as transgender need transgender hormones.

“Gender-affirming care for transgender youth is essential,” the official told Reuters in 2022.

“There is no argument among medical professionals — pediatricians, pediatric endocrinologists, adolescent medicine, physicians, adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists, et cetera — about the value and the importance of gender-affirming care,” Levine told NPR the same year.

The New York Times published an article this week on youth who said they were rushed into undergoing transgender procedures and subsequently expressed regret. The article included cautionary warnings from doctors at transgender clinics and details about how some European countries have backtracked on the issue of facilitating the use of transgender hormones and sex alteration surgeries for minors.

Still, organizations like the American Psychological Association have stuck to their guns, arguing:

“Access to gender-affirming care has a positive relationship with the mental health of transgender youth and lowers their risk of depression and suicide. … Transgender youth who have access to gender-affirming medical care experience improvements in mental health and often show mental health comparable to their cisgender peers.”

PPT argued in its letter to HHS that Levine has ignored debates within the medical community about transgender procedures.

“These statements not only do not acknowledge the contrary evidence, they assert that there is none,” the group wrote. “In spite of voluminous scientific evidence from around the world, as well as a growing number of policy decisions in other countries that run in the opposite direction, Adm. Levine has consistently made assertions indicating there is no data, studies, or evidence that contradicts or does not support these statements. The Assistant Secretary has also not only ignored the burgeoning controversy regarding the use of these treatments for minors, but has declared that it simply does not exist, that there is not a modicum of controversy in the scientific or medical communities regarding these treatments.”

“In fact, the opposite appears to be true,” the group claimed. “There appears to be little evidence in support of the statements issued by Adm. Levine. HHS was provided the opportunity to present the evidence upon which these statements are based. Instead of producing reams of studies, data, and evidence, the agency was unable to deliver anything but a single two-page information sheet with a few cherry-picked studies. It is difficult to imagine a more clear-cut case of an official violating HHS’s scientific integrity policies and undermining the state of science in pursuit of a controversial policy agenda.”

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