Israel’s Health Ministry has barred medical professionals from engaging in conversion therapy designed to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced the ban, touting the Health Ministry’s action a “victory” and a “revolution” that will make the health system “a flagship of human rights in Israel,” according to the Times of Israel.
Horowitz, who is gay, said the ban would save lives, claiming that conversion therapy leads to higher rates of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide among those subjected to it. Such therapy, he said, “kills the soul and sometimes the body as well.”
He also denounced the “charlatans” who provide the therapy, accusing them of “brainwashing” people and “destroying lives.”
Under a directive issued by Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, medical professionals who attempt to engage in sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts, could face punitive action, including the potential loss of their license to practice.
“Treatment is something that is supposed to help, so that what is called ‘conversion therapy’ is not really ‘treatment’ but abuse,” Horowitz said at a press conference announcing the directive, which states that sexual preference is not a psychological disorder.
Conversion therapy has been strongly criticized by major medical organizations in the West, who have criticized practitioners’ classification of homosexuality as a “mental illness” and the pseudo-scientific methods often involved in such therapies.
Some studies have shown that conversion therapy tends to have more negative effects on those subjected to it, leading to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
LGBTQ advocates welcomed the Health Ministry’s ban. The Israel Gay Youth organization called it a “breakthrough that will save lives, families, and [the] future of hundreds of teenage boys and girls in Israel.”
A 2021 study by The Trevor Project found LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were twice as likely to attempt suicide as those not subjected to it.
A similar peer-reviewed study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that LGBTQ youth subjected to conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than two-and-a-half times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts over the past year.
However, conversion therapy still remains popular in some religious circles, especially in more conservative faiths that condemn homosexuality.
Even those countries — or in the United States, states — that ban conversion therapy only ban medical professionals or licensed therapists from engaging in the practice, but do not restrict what a pastor or rabbi acting as a spiritual advisor may do.
In Israel, a bill banning conversion therapy passed its first reading in the Knesset, the national legislator.
But even though the bill only dealt with therapists, and did not restrict rabbis from engaging in the practice, the measure was never signed into law because of a backlash from Orthodox and conservative lawmakers who comprise significant parts of the governing coalition.
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