Governor DeWine’s veto of the bill that limits care for transgender issues in children came as a surprise to many conservatives. His reason for the veto was that parental rights trump government protection of minors. Parental rights have been a winning issue for conservatives, helping to get many school board members elected and even a governor in Virginia. Parents should be able to determine the values and beliefs their children are taught and the care and support that their children receive because all parents want the best for their children and would lay down their own life for their child. However, when a parent or guardian mistreats a child, the law allows those children to be protected by others. So, there are good reasons for limiting what a parent can do to a child.
Then there is that middle ground where good intentioned, loving parents make mistakes. Every parent makes mistakes in raising their children because we are not perfect. Making mistakes is part of learning how to be a good parent. So when should society get involved when mistakes are made? The line the legislatures have tried to follow is when the consequences of those mistakes have permanent or long-term harm to the child. For example, when a parent exposes a child to a hazardous situation like leaving them in a hot car. Then child protective services investigate whether negligence is a pattern or a single event.
So, where does gender altering treatment for children fall in the continuum of care for children? First, consider what would cause a parent to seek this kind of treatment. There are two sources for this: 1) the parent wishes to change the gender of their child or 2) the child expresses interest in being a different sex. If the parent is seeking this change in their child without any expressed interest from their child (i.e., they wanted to have a girl instead of a boy), then this would be considered abuse and should be prevented. If the source of this treatment is based on the child’s desires, then the longevity of those desires and the consequences of granting those desires needs to be considered. Everyone who has raised a child knows their desires change over time. This year they want to be Iron Man and next year they want to be Wonder Woman. The fact that two-thirds of children decide not to pursue transgender care after undergoing a consultation indicates how transient these desires are. And the biggest change in desires, interests and intellect occurs during puberty. No one, including the parents, knows how a child will change in the future. Also, it is well known that a child’s ability to make good choices is limited because of their ability to reason and weigh consequences of their actions is not mature yet. So, as good parents we don’t acquiesce to their desires or choices in some cases because we know there are better choices and because we want them to learn to discipline their own desires for long term benefits and not just short-term gratification.
So, the question is whether a life altering decision like what sex the child will have in the future should be left up to the interests and desires the child is expressing now? Experts, doctors and parents can try to guess what a child will want in the future but the empirical evidence shows that the probability of getting this right is very low. Denying a child the opportunity to grow and mature into an adult when they would have the ability to critically think about alternatives and consequences is not the best choice for that child. Once they are an adult, then they are free to alter their bodies in whatever way they see fit. If children are confused or conflicted about their identity then there is help available to build up their self confidence in their own worth as a person. If a child is suffering from depression, the medical community has been successfully treating this for decades. Making dramatic hormonal or surgical alternations to a child’s physical body is not a good treatment for mental issues. All of this is why the legislature was right to prohibit these treatments. Governor DeWine had good intentions in following the principle of parental rights but he forgot there are limits on what a parent should be allowed to do to their children. The risk of permanent harm is too great when there are no measurable physiological indicators to drive a life altering decision like this.
But children are not the only ones who need help in this situation. The parents are desperately trying to do the right thing for their children and there is a lot of pressure from some parts of society to acquiesce to the child’s desires and make life altering decisions like changing the sex of their child. Dealing with mental issues in your child or elderly parent is a crushing life experience. The parents need the support and resources to help their child through this difficult time. The legislatures should support the parents in addition to protecting the children.