Navigating Evolving Ethical Questions in Decision Making for Gender-Affirming Medical Care for Adolescents

Laura Kimberly, Kelly McBride Folkers, Baer Karrington, Jeremy Wernick,

Samantha Busa, and Caroline Salas-Humara


As more young people feel safe to outwardly identify as transgender or gender expansive (TGE), meaning that their gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, an increasing number of youth who identify as TGE seek gender-affirming medical care (GAMC). GAMC raises a number of ethical questions, such as the capacity of a minor to assent or consent, the role of parents or legal guardians in decisions about treatment, and implications for equitable access to care when differing parental or custodial viewpoints are present. These questions are further complicated by the difficulties in explaining the limits of long-term research in GAMC, with regard to the preservation of fertility, for example. We present two de-identified composite case studies to highlight dilemmas that may arise and offer recommendations to better support patient- and family-centered decision making for GAMC. These include employing a multidisciplinary shared decision-making approach, disentangling informed consent and assent from chronological age, developing a consistent approach to the assessment of decisional capacity, and developing age-appropriate informational materials.


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