July 23, 2018
This past February, two Ohio parents lost custody of their teenage daughter after they declined to support medical treatment for her to “transition” to a male. The judge awarded custody to the child’s grandparents, who are supportive of this transition, specifically authorizing the grandparents to place her on their health insurance and petition to change her name. In the wake of this decision, the teen’s parents are now barred from helping their own child through a very difficult and pivotal point in her life.
This tragic case raises significant questions about parental rights and the role of the state in the cases of children who experience gender dysphoria. The same Ohio judge in her decision observed that “there is certainly a reasonable expectation that circumstances similar to the one at bar are likely to repeat themselves” and encouraged state lawmakers to consider legislation to address these issues.
Republican state representatives have responded to this call. HB 658 was introduced to the Ohio House in May of this year. The bill operates on the principle that parents have “the fundamental right to care for their child” and sets forth provisions to ensure that parents can act in the ways they determine to be in their children’s best interest.
The legislation prohibits parents’ decisions about gender dysphoria treatments from serving as a determinant of custody in a juvenile court. In addition, it seeks to help facilitate involvement of parents in gender related issues for their children, especially in communication with schools. It requires “government agents” (which includes teachers and counselors) who have “knowledge that a child under its care or supervision has exhibited symptoms of gender dysphoria” to provide written notification to the child’s parents. It also requires written parental consent before a child can be administered any treatments for gender dysphoria, thereby keeping parents informed and engaged with important decisions about how to best care for their child.
Opponents have decried the legislation as “anti-trans youth” and as an affront to “child body autonomy.” However, this bill does not deal directly with the prospect of youth undergoing treatments for transition—they still can if their parents consent to it. It simply assures that a child’s parents, not the state, have the authority to make health decisions in the best interest of their child.
At the center of this debate is the idea that parents are better equipped to act in the best interest of their children than the state. Policies that allow the state to remove children from their parents because of disagreements with their favored sexual agenda violate this fundamental principle and ultimately put children at greater risk.
The state can “care” for general matters affecting the people under its jurisdiction; however, the state cannot care for a person in the particular, as a parent or family does. The immediate family has intimate, personal knowledge about their children and has a unique obligation to love them and do what is best for them. The government, by its very nature, is incapable of this kind of care.
Of course, there are situations where parents do not fulfill these obligations to care for their children, as in the cases of abuse and neglect, where the government rightly steps in to rectify those harms. It may be that opponents of this bill believe that denying a child the ability to “transition” counts as abuse, but this is a narrow assessment of the reality that these children face. No one denies that the struggles children with gender dysphoria go through are extremely difficult. However, there are legitimate differences of opinion about how to approach and treat these situations.
It is important to remember that the medical treatments we are talking about are not without permanent consequences and many potential complications. Starting teenagers or younger children on hormone therapy seeks to suppress puberty and will irreversibly affect their development. Gender reassignment surgery is an even more drastic step, since it involves permanent bodily mutilation and loss of physical organs for the rest of these children’s lives. Also, because these medical practices are recent phenomena, little research is available on the long-term consequences of such actions.
These are serious decisions, and it is reasonable to ensure that parents are provided with the best available information regarding the health of their child, and then enabled to make such weighty and irreversible healthcare decisions while they’re still minors. Parents, in exercising their “fundamental right to care for their child,” as HB 658 says, should be able to be with their child as they go through their emotional and psychological struggles, helping them understand the significant consequences of the choices before them. Some parents may choose to start their children on “transitioning” treatments; others may not. Allowing the state to forcibly make this type of decision for parents sets a dangerous precedent, one that infringes on the rights of parents and puts children at risk by taking away familial support systems and care from the only people in their lives who are there to care for and love them for the entirety of their lives.
Those who argue for the so-called “right to transition” drive an unnecessary wedge into the family unit, pitting child against parent. Children who experience gender dysphoria are dealing with complex emotional and psychological issues, and are at higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. Times such as these in a child’s life are exactly when they need the presence of family and those who care deeply for them the most. This Ohio legislation helps keep the family together through this difficult time by allowing parents to maintain authority over how to best address issues with their child, instead of ceding that authority to the impersonal state.