A scene from conversion therapy documentary “The Sunday Sessions” – Photo: Richard Yeagley/First Run Features
The American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the U.S., will formally support state and federal bans on conversion therapy.
The AMA’s policy-making body has voted in favor of adopting a new policy supporting conversion therapy bans, the organization announced, which will help it to develop model legislation for states to pass as well as advocate for a nationwide federal ban on conversion therapy.
Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy and “ex-gay” therapy, purports to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity through various means of therapy, ranging from talk therapy to more extreme methods such as aversion therapy or electroshock therapy.
The AMA has long opposed conversion therapy, arguing that it has zero scientific basis — something supported by former “ex-gay” advocates, a number of whom have since come out against the practice and confirmed that it does not work.
In a press release, the organization said it “agrees with medical experts that the lack of regulation on conversion therapy opens the door to fraud, harm and trauma for many adults and children in the U.S.”
The AMA said it had heard from those who underwent conversion therapy, detailing accounts of “the significant harms triggered by conversion therapy, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.”
“It is clear to the AMA that the conversion therapy needs to end in the United States given the risk of deliberate harm to LGBTQ people,” AMA Board Member William E. Kobler, M.D., said in a statement. “Conversion therapy has no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety.”
By adopting support for conversion therapy bans as official policy, the AMA hopes it will strengthen advocacy efforts against the harmful practice in future.
Thus far, only 18 states and the District of Columbia have implemented bans on conversion therapy, though all of those bans are targeted at minors.
Such bans have increasingly become targets of the religious right and right-wing conservatives, who argue that forms of conversion therapy such as talk therapy are protected by free speech, and thus bans on such therapy are unconstitutional — despite the harm they potentially pose to minors exposed to such therapy.
Last month, a federal judge overturned such a ban in Tampa, Fla., arguing that regulating those therapists who conduct conversion therapy was the role of the state legislature.
In September, one of America’s biggest conversion therapy advocates came out as gay and admitted that the practice is not only a “lie,” but also “very harmful.”
McKrae Game, the founder of Hope for Wholeness, a South Carolina faith-based conversion therapy organization that purports to change a person’s sexuality, said it was “false advertising” to claim that conversion therapy could change an LGBTQ person’s sexuality or gender identity.
In addition to a formal stance supporting conversion therapy bans, the AMA also announced that it will further promote inclusive medical documentation for LGBTQ people, including creating electronic health records that are fully inclusive of transgender patients by supporting “the voluntary inclusion of a transgender patient’s preferred name and clinically relevant sex specific anatomy in medical documentation.”
“The newly amended policy reinforces the importance of EHRs that contain inclusive information on transgender patients,” Kobler said. “Without this information, transgender patients and their specific health care needs cannot be identified or documented, the health disparities they experience cannot be addressed, and the provision of important health care services may not be delivered.”
The AMA adopted the new policy in line with World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommendations that medical documentation include a patient’s preferred name, gender identity, pronoun preference, and the ability record a patient’s transition history and current anatomy.
A further policy adopted by the AMA’s House of Delegates would ensure that medical students and residents have a better understanding of the health issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The AMA will encourage medical education accreditation bodies to support and reassess education on such health issues in the basic science, clinical care, and cultural competency curricula in medical school and residency programs.
“With research showing significant disparities among patients facing health issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, it is important that our future physicians have the training they need to recognize these health issues and better treat their patients,” AMA Board Member Grayson W. Armstrong, M.D., M.P.H., said in a statement.
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