New guidelines for physicians to enable them to increase their knowledge and sensitivity towards transgender people and the unique health issues they face have been approved by the World Medical Association.
At its annual General Assembly in Moscow, the WMA emphasised that everyone has the right to determine their own gender and that gender incongruence is not in itself a mental disorder. Delegates from almost 60 national medical associations agreed that every effort should be made to make individualised, multi-professional, interdisciplinary and affordable transgender healthcare available to all people who experience gender incongruence. They approved guidelines explicitly rejecting any form of coercive treatment or forced behaviour modification and said that transgender healthcare aims to enable transgender people to have the best possible quality of life.
The guidelines were proposed by the German Medical Association, which said they acknowledged the inequities faced by the transgender community and the crucial role played by physicians in advising transgender people and their families about treatment.
Delegates said they were aware of the cultural sensitivities in some parts of the world about this issue, but also said it was important for the WMA to stress that cultural, political or religious considerations must not take precedence over the rights, health and well-being of transgender people.
WMA President, Sir Michael Marmot, said: ‘We condemn all forms of discrimination, stigmatisation and violence against transgender people and want to see appropriate legal measures to protect their equal civil rights. And as role models, physicians should use their medical knowledge to combat prejudice in this respect. We would like national medical associations to take action to identify and combat barriers to care.
‘It is important that there is appropriate expert training for physicians at all stages of their career to enable them to recognise and avoid discriminatory practices, and to provide appropriate and sensitive transgender healthcare.'
The guidelines are available to read and download from the WMA below:
WMA Statement on Transgender People Adopted by the 66th WMA General Assembly, Moscow, Russia, October 2015
In most cultures, an individual’s sex is assigned at birth according to primary physical sex characteristics. Individuals are expected to identify with their assigned sex (gender identity) and behave according to specific cultural norms strongly associated with this (gender expression). Gender identity and gender expression make up the concept of “gender” itself.
There are individuals who experience different manifestations of gender that do not conform to those typically associated with their sex assigned at birth. The term “transgender” refers to people who experience gender incongruence, which is defined as a marked mismatch between one’s gender and the sex assigned at birth.
While conceding that this is a complex ethical issue, the WMA would like to acknowledge the crucial role played by physicians in advising and consulting with transgender people and their families about desired treatments. The WMA intends this statement to serve as a guideline for patient-physician relations and to foster better training to enable physicians to increase their knowledge and sensitivity toward transgender people and the unique health issues they face.
Along the transgender spectrum, there are people who, despite having a distinct anatomically identifiable sex, seek to change their primary and secondary sex characteristics and gender role completely in order to live as a member of the opposite sex (transsexual). Others choose to identify their gender as falling outside the sex/gender binary of either male or female (genderqueer). The generic term “transgender” represents an attempt to describe these groups without stigmatisation or pathological characterisation. It is also used as a term of positive self-identification. This statement does not explicitly address individuals who solely dress in a style or manner traditionally associated with the opposite sex (e.g. transvestites) or individuals who are born with physical aspects of both sexes, with many variations (intersex). However, there are transvestites and intersex individuals who identify as transgender. Being transvestite or intersex does not exclude an individual from being transgender. Finally, it is important to point out that transgender relates to gender identity, and must be considered independently from an individual’s sexual orientation.
Although being transgender does not in itself imply any mental impairment, transgender people may require counseling to help them understand their gender and to address the complex social and relational issues that are affected by it. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-5) uses the term “gender dysphoria” to classify people who experience clinically significant distress resulting from gender incongruence.
Evidence suggests that treatment with sex hormones or surgical interventions can be beneficial to people with pronounced and long-lasting gender dysphoria who seek gender transition. However, transgender people are often denied access to appropriate and affordable transgender healthcare (e.g. sex hormones, surgeries, mental healthcare) due to, among other things, the policies of health insurers and national social security benefit schemes, or to a lack of relevant clinical and cultural competence among healthcare providers. Transgender persons may be more likely to forego healthcare due to fear of discrimination.
Transgender people are often professionally and socially disadvantaged, and experience direct and indirect discrimination, as well as physical violence. In addition to being denied equal civil rights, anti-discrimination legislation, which protects other minority groups, may not extend to transgender people. Experiencing disadvantage and discrimination may have a negative impact upon physical and mental health.
The WMA emphasises that everyone has the right to determine one’s own gender and recognises the diversity of possibilities in this respect. The WMA calls for physicians to uphold each individual’s right to self-identification with regards to gender.
The WMA asserts that gender incongruence is not in itself a mental disorder; however it can lead to discomfort or distress, which is referred to as gender dysphoria (DSM-5).
The WMA affirms that, in general, any health-related procedure or treatment related to an individual’s transgender status, e.g. surgical interventions, hormone therapy or psychotherapy, requires the freely given informed and explicit consent of the patient.
The WMA urges that every effort be made to make individualised, multi-professional, interdisciplinary and affordable transgender healthcare (including speech therapy, hormonal treatment, surgical interventions and mental healthcare) available to all people who experience gender incongruence in order to reduce or to prevent pronounced gender dysphoria.
The WMA explicitly rejects any form of coercive treatment or forced behaviour modification. Transgender healthcare aims to enable transgender people to have the best possible quality of life. National Medical Associations should take action to identify and combat barriers to care.
The WMA calls for the provision of appropriate expert training for physicians at all stages of their career to enable them to recognise and avoid discriminatory practises, and to provide appropriate and sensitive transgender healthcare.
The WMA condemns all forms of discrimination, stigmatisation and violence against transgender people and calls for appropriate legal measures to protect their equal civil rights. As role models, individual physicians should use their medical knowledge to combat prejudice in this respect.
The WMA reaffirms its position that no person, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, medical condition or disability, should be subjected to forced or coerced permanent sterilisation (WMA Statement on Forced and Coerced Sterilisation). This also includes sterilisation as a condition for rectifying the recorded sex on official documents following gender reassignment.
The WMA recommends that national governments maintain continued interest in the healthcare rights of transgender people by conducting health services research at the national level and using these results in the development of health and medical policies. The objective should be a responsive healthcare system that works with each transgender person to identify the best treatment options for that individual.