House hears depositions on gender reassignment practices involving minors

By John McPhaul

The Social Welfare Committee in the island House of Representatives, chaired by Rep. Lisie Burgos Muñiz, heard from Rafael Morales Maldonado, the diocesan bishop of the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Puerto Rico on Tuesday as part of a legislative hearing on House Bill 768, which seeks to ban the use of hormonal treatments and gender reassignment surgeries for minors.

In his explanatory presentation, the religious leader affirmed his support for local, state and federal laws that prevent discrimination based on the gender identity or gender expression of any person.

“In the case of this bill, we have to highlight the genuine interest of protecting minors in case of clinical decisions that will impact their future life,” Morales Maldonado said in a written statement. “However, we are concerned that the bill does not separate the physical and psychological development processes of children, pre-adolescents and adolescents.”

In turn, the bishop stressed that each age group requires “a differentiated approach to their physical and mental process.”

“As pediatric patients become adolescents and approach adulthood, their participation in medical decision-making often increases to take into account their values and determinations,” Morales Maldonado said. “But until a young person reaches the age of majority, the medical decision-making process generally includes parental or guardian permission to the extent appropriate.”

The bishop said he believes that respect for autonomy is the strongest factor that supports hormonal treatments, “since the practice is justified by the desire to respect the gender identity expressed by an adolescent.”

“Of course, any process [must be] supported and guided by a clinical team with the participation of a father, mother or guardians,” he said. “This is why we emphasize a differentiated and individualized project, in which a multidisciplinary and educational clinical team accompanies the adolescent in a decision that he or she will make when he or she is eighteen years old.”

Also deposing before the committee was clinical psychologist Riddish M. Álvarez, who expressed support for the bill filed by Burgos Muñiz.

“Hormonal gender affirmation therapy causes minors with gender dysphoria to begin hormonal and subsequently surgical processes with irreversible consequences,” she said. “Certainly, there are testimonies where it has helped people to transition and it has been effective at the moment. It is no less true that even though this process is novel and lacking in longitudinal studies, thousands of cases have been presented where minors have begun to transition and then have reversed course.”

Álvarez recommended in her explanatory memorandum that the scope of the measure be extended to 21-year-olds.

“Something as severe and invasive as hormones, puberty blockers and surgeries should be [legal only] after reaching the age of majority, 21 years,” she wrote.

Burgos Muñiz noted that her bill “is not aimed at people of legal age who wish to make a gender transition.”

“We respect the privacy of people,” she said. “This committee does not intend to limit any right of individuals to be something different. The dignity of all people must be respected. Here we are protecting minors.”

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