CATHOLIC school authorities who become aware of children seeking to delay the onset of puberty with hormone blockers need to pursue a pastoral care strategy that was steeped in truth “not by political lobbying”, Perth bioethics director Fr Joseph Parkinson has said.
Fr Parkinson regularly offers advice to parents of children with gender dysphoria and incongruence, and is critical of the current clinical approach to caring for students experiencing distress with their sexuality.
“The current fashion to dress this up as gender incongruence and respond ac- cording to the rhetoric of the LGBTIQ++ lobby is unnecessary and possibly counter-productive in terms of providing sound, long-term support for all children in our care – not just for the few who claim gender incongruence status,” he said.
Fr Parkinson’s comments were in response to an ABC’s Four Corners report into the lives of four young Australians who have chosen to identify as non-binary, meaning they believe they are neither male nor female.
One of those young people was Olivia Purdie, an 11-year-old primary school student from Adelaide who is on puberty blockers to treat her gender dysphoria, which was diagnosed two years ago.
“I am non-binary, which means I have no gender. I am just me,” Olivia said on Four Corners.
At the recommendation of Olivia’s doctors, including a paediatric endocrinologist from the Women’s and Children’s Hospital of South Australia, she is receiving an injection of drugs designed to postpone puberty, including the development of breasts and menstruation.
This treatment was advised in order to alleviate Olivia’s distress with her birth gender and to provide an early intervention of a possible suicide.
“The benefit of a puberty blocker is that it gives a young person time to explore how they express their gender identity,” Olivia’s endocrinologist Dr Jemma Anderson told ABC’s Four Corners.
But Fr Parkinson said there were no credible studies showing the long-term effects of using hormone suppression treatments, including whether a child was less likely to suicide when given puberty blockers.
Studies that did claim such treatments lessened the likelihood of suicide were usually methodologically weak, he said.
“Medical practitioners, even those who advocate use of hormonal treatment, recognise that we have no real idea of the long-term effects it may have,” Fr Parkinson said.
“A few short-term trials have been published, but these also report mixed results: hormonal treatment often doesn’t alleviate gender dysphoria in the long run, nor reduce the effects of coinciding psychological pathologies.
“The claim is often made that hormonal treatment, by offering the child reassurance about the direction of their future body morphology, reduces the risk of suicide among gender incongruence children or, more popularly, if we don’t give the treatment the child is more likely to suicide.
“There are virtually no reliable data to support this claim.”
He said Catholic schools needed to await “future sound results” of longitudinal studies into the effects of medical treatments on children with gender anxieties, including the use of puberty blockers, and avoid the gender affirmation approaches of LGBTQI lobbyists.
This is consistent with Fr Parkinson’s 2014 research paper titled Pastoral Care for School Students who Experience Same-Sex Attraction, which concluded: “Schools must not blindly affirm a student’s felt same-sex orientation, but should provide excellent pastoral care designed to both support and challenge the student to ongoing growth.”
“Catholic education will be led forward over time by future sound results of reliable research into these questions – it would be at best premature, at worst irresponsible to allow our long-standing ethic of care for children to be derailed by what may well prove to be a temporary social phenomenon,” Fr Parkinson said.
“We must be led forward by the truth, not by political lobbying.”