Small flags of the World Health Organization WHO on an abstract blurry background
Small flags of the World Health Organization WHO on an abstract blurry background

World Health Organization Fails at Forcing ‘Gender-Affirming Care’ on Children

Originally published at Humanize

“Listen to the experts,” we’re often told. Sometimes that’s smart. For example, I generally heed my doctor’s medical advice because I trust him to pursue my health interests based on the best data available.

The crafting of wise public policy also depends on recommendations of those with relevant expertise. But how can we trust that these expert opinions will be based on objective and thorough analyses of all relevant information and that diverse views will be heard?

Alas, too often, we can’t, especially when expert advice is based on who’s paying the expert’s salary, or even more insidiously, on “experts” promoting their own zealously held ideological beliefs in the guise of learned expertise.

I often witnessed this corruption during my days practicing law. In personal injury cases, lawyers and judges all knew which medical “experts” testified for “plaintiffs” and which for the defense. Predictably, these plaintiff and defense doctors offered radically different opinions as to the cause, severity, and long-term consequences of the same litigant’s injury.

At least in the legal adversary system, each side can challenge the other’s “experts” on the witness stand. But what would happen if only one side’s “experts” were allowed to testify? Courts would quickly descend into kangaroo proceedings, and verdicts would be predetermined outcomes.

This is precisely the corrupt game the World Health Organization (WHO) tried to play to justify issuing guidelines on sexual health and the treatment of gender dysphoric children. This all took place in the context of the WHO publishing an advocacy Bulletin representing its preferred policies that defines “sexual health” as essentially allowing anything goes when it comes to personal sexual expression. Thus, the Bulletin defines “sexual health” as “not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity,” but requiring “a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

No reasonable person supports coercion and violence in matters involving sex. Rape is an atrocious crime. Forced marriage is a true human rights abuse. Sex trafficking is abhorrent.

But these terrible wrongs were not the Bulletin’s primary focus. Rather, the authors seemed intent on creating policies that reject traditional cultural and religious sexual norms such as celibacy, chastity, fidelity in marriage, and sexual restraint, and redefining them as abuses that undermine “sexual health.” Thus, the Bulletin states: “Upholding sexual health is a moral obligation. Immense suffering is caused when people lack bodily autonomy; control over their fertility; and the freedom to experience safe, consensual and pleasurable sexual relationships.” Consequently, “Policy-makers must enact progressive laws and policies to expand access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive services” such as abortion, contraception, gender transitioning, and the decriminalization of prostitution.

Even more subversively, the WHO’s “progressive” sexual health agenda wanted to target children suffering from intense feelings they are not the sex they were born. Toward that end, the WHO empaneled an advisory committee consisting exclusively of transgender activists as the “experts” to help the organization craft official guidelines on treating gender dysphoric children and adolescents.

Clearly, the fix was supposed to be in. These “experts” would almost surely have recommended “gender-affirming care,” as the only and best approach to caring for such children, interventions that include “social affirmation,” such as using a child’s desired pronouns, to medical affirmation, i.e., puberty blockers and the administration of cross-sex hormones (that can cause sterilization), and even, surgeries such as mastectomies and facial reconstruction operations. And, when critics later objected to these radical recommendations, the plan was for the WHO to justify its guidelines with the excuse, “We have to listen to the experts!”

Luckily, the world became aware of the game that was afoot. For example, the Heritage Foundation—a conservative think tank — filed objections to the WHO’s stacking of the expert deck, noting that appointed members of the advisory board “have ideological precommitments to a highly controversial and contested standard of care.” Unsurprisingly, several committee members were part of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH)—an ideological and activist medical association that unreservedly pushes “gender-affirming care” — as the WHO concomitantly excluded expert critics of that approach.

Others protested too, noting that opposition to “gender-affirming care” in children reaches across the usual ideological divides. For example, several socially progressive European countries — the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and Norway — have recently instituted new public health policies restricting gender-affirming care in children based on expert opinions determining that transitioning children can cause great physical harm, with little settled proof of long-term benefit.

The WHO’s stacking of the expert deck was so blatant that even a UN official has publicly criticized the organization’s biased approach. As reported by The Guardian newspaper, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls accused the WHO of “taking a ‘one-sided’ pro-medicalising approach to trans healthcare,” complaining that “most committee members had ‘strong, one-sided views in favor of promoting hormonal gender transition‘” and ”adding that of the 21 committee members ‘not one appears to represent a voice of caution for medicalising youth with gender dysphoria or the protection of female-only spaces.’”

For once, the pressure against ideological medicine paid off. Under intense and very public pressure, the WHO’s leaders clearly understood that the jig was up and issued a clarifying statement containing the astonishing admission: “The scope [of the new guidance] will cover adults only and not address the needs of children and adolescents, because on review, the evidence base for children and adolescents is limited and variable regarding the longer-term outcomes of gender affirming care for children and adolescents.” Quick, somebody tell the Biden administration.

The ruling class and international community clearly intend to impose a radical view of “sexual health” on us all — including setting gender-affirming care as the standard of care for treating gender dysphoric children — policies not shared by or agreed with by billions of the world’s people. But this important episode demonstrates that authoritarian impositions can sometimes be easier planned than accomplished — particularly when an informed public and child-protecting groups refuse to take the ruling elite’s ideological imperialism lying down.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.