VUMC temporarily pauses gender-affirming surgeries on minors

A coalition of Tennessee’s Republican representatives wrote a letter labeling the Pediatric Transgender Clinic’s practices as “abuse.”

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Hallie Smith

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center campus, as photographed on Oct. 18, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hallie Smith)

Brina Ratangee, Deputy News Editor

VUMC’s Transgender Health Clinic is suspending its gender-affirming surgical procedures for patients under age 18 in an Oct. 7 letter responding to Tennessee Representative Jason Zachary. Along with other Tennessee state representatives, Zachary sent a letter on Sept. 28 to the VUMC Board of Directors urging them to immediately suspend all permanent surgical procedures for transgender minors.

This action comes amid controversy sparked by conservative political commentator and Daily Wire host Matt Walsh’s Twitter thread, which accused the Transgender Health Clinic of unethically treating transgender minors for financial benefit. Zachary and the other representatives condemned VUMC for this alleged action in their letter. 

“It is an egregious error of judgment that an institution as highly respected as Vanderbilt would condone (and promote) harmful and irreversible procedures for minor children in the name of profit,” the letter reads.

VUMC Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer C. Wright Pinson refuted the representatives’ claims in his Oct. 7 letter, stating that VUMC offers gender-affirming procedures, not for financial benefit but rather to serve a “consistently underserved,” at-risk population. Per Pinson, an annual average of five patients under the age of 18 have received gender-affirming surgical procedures, all of whom were at least 16 years old, had parental consent and did not receive genital procedures. 

“None of these surgeries have been paid for by state or federal funds; the revenues from this limited number of surgeries represent an immaterial percentage of VUMC’s net operating revenue,” Pinson wrote in the letter.

The World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) published a new version of its recommendations for treatment of transgender individuals on Sept. 6. Pinson cited these new guidelines as the reason for the suspension of pediatric gender-affirming surgical procedures and did not mention Walsh’s allegations. Per the letter, reviewing these guidelines may take several months.

“In light of these new recommendations, and as part of completing our internal clinical review of the SOC-8 guidance in patients under 18, we will be seeking advice from local and national clinical experts,” Pinson wrote in the letter.

Walsh and Zachary also accused the clinic of disregarding employees’ religious and moral objections to performing such procedures. In response to this concern, Pinson stated that VUMC policies allow employees to request accommodations for procedures they view as “morally objectionable.”

Pinson concluded the letter with a promise to adhere to any new laws the Tennessee state legislature enacts in its next session. Several anti-trans healthcare bills have been signed into law by Governor Lee in recent years, with even more expected to be enacted this year.