Doctor: Alabama lawmakers want to punish me for treating transgender youth
“I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”
Years ago, I donned a white coat and uttered these words. I gathered with other young doctors and pledged to provide comprehensive and compassionate care for all my patients.
Now the state of Alabama, where I practice, is on the verge of passing a bill that would make it a felony for medical professionals to provide essential care to transgender youth. This is unconscionable, especially in the middle of a public health crisis that has killed half a million Americans.
When I first took the Hippocratic Oath, I understood the obligation I was assuming. I knew I would become responsible for fellow humans’ lives and be a harbinger of the worst or best possible news a family could hear.
Never though, in all of my training, did I imagine that those in our highest offices of power would work to subvert our solemn oath, using their positions to make determinations about who can and cannot receive care. Yet here we are. If this law is enacted, I could face up to 10 years in prison just for doing my job.
The Alabama bill would be one of the most harmful pieces of anti-trans legislation in our nation’s history. But it’s far from the only attempt to discriminate against trans people and punish those who provide them care. Trans rights, and specifically trans children’s rights, are under brutal attack by state legislatures across the country. State lawmakers have proposed a record number of anti-transgender bills this year — from banning trans kids from playing on sports teams in nearly 20 states to criminalizing doctors who provide trans youth essential healthcare in a dozen.
Compounding these legislative attacks, COVID related clinic closures and travel restrictions have further limited access to medically necessary, gender-affirming care for transgender patients during the pandemic.
Moreover, about two-thirds of LGBTQ adults have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or HIV, conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Access to essential care for trans Americans is more imperative than ever.
Even without this law in place, trans people face rampant discrimination in healthcare settings.
In Alabama, one in four transgender people who visited a healthcare provider had a negative experience related to being transgender, according to a 2015 survey. More than a third did not see a doctor when they needed to because they feared being mistreated as a transgender person. And 17 percent experienced issues with their insurance because of their gender identity.
The barriers to care for trans people are extensive and dangerous.
The evidence is irrefutable. Transgender children who receive gender-affirming care such as puberty-delaying medication and hormones when they are young have better mental health outcomes and report fewer cases of depression and suicidal ideation. As COVID-19 continues to take an enormous toll on the mental health of children, access to this care is critical.
The passage of this bill would make it nearly impossible for trans youth in Alabama to receive the care they need and jail doctors like myself who are committed to treating all people. And it’s not just Alabama. Bills like this are proliferating all across the country, and trans youth are relying on healthcare providers to fight for their rights.
“May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.”
I write today to uphold this oath — to preserve this fine tradition and fight back against hate. So to the lawmakers who insist on legislating intolerance, quit standing in the way of healthcare professionals who only seek to help.
Dr. Izzy Lowell is a family medicine physician whose clinic, QueerMed, specializes in transgender medicine and treats trans patients in Alabama and across the Southeast.
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