Doctors in Arkansas could now be sued by patients who underwent surgeries or hormone therapies aimed at altering their gender when they were minors following the enactment of new legislation.
Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed Senate Bill 199 on March 14, giving people who underwent “gender transition procedures” 15 years after their 18th birthday to bring a malpractice lawsuit against their doctor. Current state law allows malpractice suits to be filed within two years of an injury.
“Gender transition procedures” include “any medical or surgical service … related to gender transition.” This includes prescribed drugs, surgeries as well as any inpatient or outpatient treatment that aims to “alter or remove physical or anatomical characteristics or features that are typical for the individual’s biological sex” or that “instill or create physiological or anatomical characteristics that resemble a sex different from the individual’s biological sex.”
Malpractice suits brought due to “any infection, injury, disease, or disorder that has been caused by or exacerbated by the performance of gender transition procedures” are not granted the 15-year extension period and must be filed in compliance with current state law.
“Sometimes gender transition treatments have been proposed as a way to reduce the chances of a minor committing suicide due to discordance between the minor’s sex and his or her perception, but the rates of actual suicide from this discordance remain extremely low,” states SB 199. “Furthermore, as recognized by health authorities in Europe, there is no evidence that suicidality is caused by ‘unaffirmed’ gender or that gender transition treatments are causally linked to a reduction in serious suicidal attempts or ideations.”
Examples included in the text of the bill are puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and surgical intervention. The law included an exemption for physicians treating intersex people who are born with “biological sex characteristics that are irresolvably ambiguous.”
The new law does grant doctors a “safe harbor” provision for their legal defense. The doctor would need to document that a minor patient maintained his or her gender or sex perception for two continuous years and that the minor and his or her parents gave their informed consent before receiving treatment, per The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
State Senator Gary Stubblefield, the Republican who sponsored SB 199, argued the bill would combat “gender ideology” and “language games that these ideologues want us to play.”
“There’s no such thing as having a place on a gender spectrum,” Stubblefield said, per the Arkansas Advocate. “With the rarest of exceptions, we are born one of two sexes, male or female. Sex is not assigned. It is an integral part of who we are, right from the moment of conception.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas called SB 199 a piece of “anti-LGBTQ” legislation that unfairly “imposes severe consequences aimed solely at healthcare professionals who provide life-saving and life-changing care to transgender youth.”
“This law is not based on science or evidence, and it is a direct attack on the fundamental rights, health, and well-being of Arkansas’ youth and those who care for them,” the agency said in a March 15 statement.
The law goes into effect this summer.