I am a physician, but I am also a mother, and I am a Christian. I firmly believe that I was called by God to care for all of God’s children and I have dedicated my life to that very pursuit – completing college, medical school, graduate school, and pediatric residency training, and, now, working to care for the children of Alabama for the past decade. But, according to certain Alabama legislators I am not qualified to help guide you through some of the toughest medical decisions of your life.
SB184 and HB266, both introduced during this year’s legislative session, propose that it should be a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for parents, working with their physician, to give minors certain FDA-approved, evidence based medications – even with parental consent, and even though all major medical associations support this course of treatment.
Instead, according to the Alabama State Legislature, physicians prescribing these FDA-approved medications are causing harm, and parents are not smart enough to understand how to make medical decisions for their families. Literally, that is what the bills state: “minors, and often their parents, are unable to fully comprehend…”
The medications in question are hormones used to delay the onset of puberty in transgender youth. These hormones have been used successfully and safely to treat a number of medical conditions for decades with extensive research into their possible long-term risks. These medications are most typically prescribed by a pediatric endocrinologist who has completed four years of college, four years of medical school, three years in pediatric specialty training and an additional three years of pediatric subspecialty training. Currently, hormones to delay puberty in Alabama youth with psychological distress is only offered with documentation by a mental health professional that this treatment would be helpful, consent of all of the patient’s parents/legal guardians, and under the supervision of a team of specialists.
As a community pediatrician practicing in the Wiregrass, I have seen the life-saving benefits of these medications firsthand. Years ago, I had a patient named John, a transgender teenager who just wanted to live his life as his authentic self. He and his family had been to counseling and sought pastoral care, but they were getting nowhere. John’s mom was desperate – hopeless. She was scared of losing her child, and her worries weren’t unfounded: 86 percent of transgender youth report that they have considered suicide and 56 percent have attempted suicide, rates that are actually higher in transgender youth younger than 15 years of age. Additionally, studies show that invalidating the experiences of adolescents further INCREASES their risk of self harm.
The problem was, even after my 13 years of post-graduate scientific training, I still didn’t know everything about gender identity – and the very real differences between sex, sexual identity, gender, and gender expression. But, I knew a team of physicians who knew more than me, experts in sex and gender development. So, I made a referral.
Fast forward to this year. John has long since graduated from my practice, but I still keep in touch with his mom (and even take care of her grandchildren). This year, she wrote to me and said that, because of the care they received, “I now have a son who graduated high school with straight A’s and has been going to college…[a son] who is very happy and no longer cuts himself or wants to commit suicide.”
The medically-necessary care that John received should not be outlawed. Legislators would like to scare you into believing that your child could be given these medications without your consent – but they can’t. Since that lie has been exposed, legislators are now asserting that your consent doesn’t matter because you “can’t comprehend” how to make the right decision for your family.
Don’t let them fool you. Any legislator who votes for these bills does not support your right to make medical decisions for your child with their pediatrician.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, the Alabama State Senate and House jointly passed a resolution to support the right of physicians and patients to decide, together, what is best for the patient. Among other things, it read, “a duly licensed physician should be allowed to prescribe any FDA-approved medication for any condition that the physician and patient agree would be beneficial for treatment of the patient without interference by government.”
It would seem that, as recently as last year, the Alabama State Legislature supported leaving medical decisions to physicians and patients. So why is the Legislature now going back on this common sense position?
After all, if doctors are not qualified to make these decisions…
And your child is not qualified to consent for their medical care…
And you are not qualified to consent for their care…
Well, thank God we have the Alabama Legislature to make medical decisions for us!
Dr. Nola Jean Ernest is a community pediatrician in Enterprise, Alabama and a mother of 3 boys. She has a Ph.D. in Neurobiology and M.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and completed her pediatric training at the Monroe Carell, Jr, Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University.