On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal‘s online edition promoted a June 2014 op-ed by Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, which argues that transgender identity is a mental illness akin to bulimia and should not be treated with surgery, which can cause more harm than good. Though the article did not appear in the paper’s print edition, its promotion on the website coincides with the debate over former Olympian Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner.
At the time of the op-ed’s original publication, the left reacted in fury. Media Matters for America, for example, accused McHugh of “ignoring medical consensus and arguing that transgender patients should be denied medically necessary treatment,” namely gender reassignment. Others called McHugh’s views “transphobic” and “a form of science denialism. [J]ust as climate change deniers reject overwhelming consensus about the damage we have done to the environment.”
Dr. McHugh’s arguments focus on treatments that are demanded for transgendered individuals as a matter of right, including surgery in adults and puberty-delaying drugs in children. He writes:
We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into “sex-reassignment surgery”—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as “satisfied” by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.
It now appears that our long-ago decision was a wise one. A 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden produced the most illuminating results yet regarding the transgendered, evidence that should give advocates pause. The long-term study—up to 30 years—followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery. The study revealed that beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties. Most shockingly, their suicide mortality rose almost 20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population. This disturbing result has as yet no explanation but probably reflects the growing sense of isolation reported by the aging transgendered after surgery. The high suicide rate certainly challenges the surgery prescription.
The op-ed was also referenced on Tuesday by radio host Rush Limbaugh, who applauded McHugh, adding that the transgender cause had become a “push point” for the left. Later, Limbaugh interviewed a transgendered conservative who objected to the way the left had hijacked her identity for a political cause.