Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s transgender clinic in Nashville has paused gender-affirmation surgeries for patients under the age of 18, a top executive at the center told a Tennessee lawmaker on Friday.
Republican Tennessee state representative Jason Zachary — who had asked VUMC to permanently end gender-affirming surgeries for minors — issued a letter to Twitter he received from VUMC’s Chief Health System Officer, Dr. C. Wright Pinson.
In the letter, Pinson informs the lawmaker that the nonprofit hospital is “pausing” gender-affirming surgeries on patients under 18 while it reviews “new recommendations.”
The move came under pressure from Tennessee Republican leaders, who sent a letter to the hospital last week requesting that Vanderbilt Medical halts all gender reassignment surgeries on minors.
Gender-affirming care uses a multidisciplinary approach to help a person move from their assigned gender – the one the person was assigned at birth – to the gender that the person wants to be known by.
Pinson said the suspension is due to an ongoing review of new guidance on treating transgender patients issued by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, noting the review “may take several months,” according to the letter.
A VUMC spokesman confirmed to CNN on Friday that the letter is legitimate, but declined to elaborate further on the clinic’s new policy.
Pinson’s letter said the Transgender Health Clinic, which was established in 2018, has provided surgical services to an average of five minors per year. In all of those cases, the patients were at least 16, had parental consent, and “none have received genital procedures,” the director said.
Restrictions on gender confirmation procedures for minors have become a contentious political issue in some states, including Texas, where there is an ongoing legal battle over whether parents who allow gender confirmation care for their children can be investigated for “child abuse.”
Major medical associations—including the American Medical Association—have agreed that gender-affirming care is clinically appropriate for children and adults with gender dysphoria, which, according to the American Psychiatric Association, are psychological disorders that can occur when a person’s gender identity and gender assigned at the birth does not match.
Last year, the Tennessee state legislature passed a law banning hormone therapy for children who have not reached puberty, and Republican lawmakers are debating enacting further restrictions next year.
The ACLU of Tennessee released a statement last month condemning lawmakers’ plans for further restrictions.
“Parents, patients and doctors, not politicians, should decide what medical treatment is in the best interest of a particular young person,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Kathy Sinback said in a statement. “Medical and mental health care for transgender individuals is governed by evidence-based clinical guidelines as well as existing state laws that already regulate health care for trans Tennesseans. Efforts to limit trans Tennesseans’ access to health care are a major government overreach, and the ACLU-TN is ready to fight back against intrusions into the private medical decision-making rights of parents and families when seeking gender-affirming care.”
The VUMC director’s letter acknowledged the possibility of new legal restrictions on gender-affirming care, saying the facility would comply with Tennessee law.
“We understand that this issue will likely be taken up by the General Assembly in its next legislative session,” Pinson said. “As always, we will ensure that VUMC’s programs comply with any new requirements that may be established as part of Tennessee law.”
The letter goes on to say that VUMC’s policies “allow employees to request an accommodation to be excused from participating in surgeries or procedures they believe are morally objectionable.” Zachary, in his tweet, characterized this statement as a pledge to “honor religious opponents.”
State House Republican Leader William Lamberth called VUMC’s decision a “victory.”
“This is a victory for the safety of our children, but we are committed to making sure this never happens in Tennessee again,” Lamberth tweeted.