A father is taking legal action against the NHS to try and stop surgeons performing sex-change surgery on his “vulnerable” autistic son.
The parent says that both the scandal-hit Tavistock and NHS England’s adult gender identity services failed to explore issues surrounding his autism, anxiety and mental health and instead rushed his child down a path of “experimental treatment”.
Now 21, his son is due to have “vaginoplasty” surgery on Saturday, which will see his male genitalia removed. The father believes those with autism and developmental delays should not be able to consent to surgery until at least 25.
The father, named only as Parent A, is taking the legal action alongside Ritchie Herron, an autistic detransitioner who says that gender reassignment surgery has ruined his body forever.
They accuse NHS England of failing to provide appropriate treatment for adults with gender dysphoria and to put in safeguards for the disproportionate number of people who believe they are trans and are also on the autism spectrum.
“We believe that the model of care for young adults with gender dysphoria is profoundly unsafe and urgently in need of additional protective measures and independent review,” they said as they launched a crowdfunding appeal to finance the legal action.
They warn that young people who attend adult NHS Gender Identity Clinics, which they can from the age of 17, only have to have two appointments before they are placed “on a pathway towards irreversible lifelong treatment”. Clinicians often “affirm” a belief they are trans.
Those on the autism spectrum have “additional vulnerabilities as they often have inflexible thinking, obsessionality and difficulty comprehending nuance”, they warn.
The father said he is “one of the many parents who is heart-broken” over the path his son has gone down, adding: “I know he has been let down by the system and fear for his future.”
At 13 he “suddenly” told an NHS mental health practitioner that he was trans and was referred to the Tavistock, where he was prescribed puberty blockers at 16 against his father’s wishes.
“I was shocked that such an experimental treatment would be given, despite my objections, due to deep concerns about harmful side effects and it almost inevitably leading on to cross sex hormones so easily and quickly,” he said.
He says that the mental health issues, a history of bullying, anxiety and the impact of autism on his son’s decisions were never properly explored by NHS medics. “He believes that becoming a woman will solve so many of his problems,” the father said.
When he tried to block him from attending the Tavistock, he was warned that his child could be taken into care.
He added: “As a parent, I am deeply concerned to protect my son. I am shut out. A system with such limited safeguards, providing a radical experimental treatment with lifelong consequences and driven by an aggressive ideology, is deeply broken. “It is structurally unfair to people like my son, whose autism makes him more likely to seek the answer to his problems in this radical treatment. He needs more protection not less.”
Mr Herron, 36, was 25 when he decided that he was a man living in a woman’s body and sought help from the NHS.
He had “crippling mental health issues”, partly due to the fact he was unable to accept that he was a gay man, and he had undiagnosed autism and had recently been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as well as depression and addiction issues.
He says that the idea that all of his problems were caused by gender dysphoria became his “new obsession” and he found that he was celebrated for the decision by an online community.
At the age of 26 the civil servant from Newcastle “began an irreversible medical pathway, that has left me physically crippled today”.
Just after his 31st birthday he had surgery to remove his genitals and create a fake vagina, which has left him unable to use the toilet properly and often in “crippling pain”.
“There is no dignity in living like this, there was no great becoming of myself. I have completely undone myself, with the assistance of medical professionals, who offered no doubt, no challenge,” he said
Mr Herron said that he cannot deal with the fact he is not alone in his “regret” and that there are “not just dozens, or hundreds, but thousands of others like me, and more to come.”
He said they deserve to be “caught and cared for” not “punished” for asking for help by being “castrated.
The pair are bringing a judicial review against the service specifications that determine how patients are treated and are calling for the Cass review to be broadened to include all adults under 25.
NHS England has been sent a pre-action letter and Mr Herron and Parent A are preparing to issue proceedings at London’s High Court.
A spokesman for NHS England said it “has received the judicial review challenge letter, which we will respond to accordingly.
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, and Kemi Badenoch, the Minister for Women and Equalities, have also been served with papers.
Ms Badenoch, who has described the Tavistock as a “scandal”, has been involved amid fear the NHS is discriminating against people with autism.