December 9, 2021

Leading US psychiatrist describes transgender medicine as “folly”

‘I’m absolutely convinced that this is folly and it’s going to collapse,’ says Paul McHugh.

One of the most prominent critics of the tenets of transgender medicine is Dr Paul McHugh. He was Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1975 to 2001. Apart from his research, he has written a number of articles and books for the general reader. He served on President Bush’s bioethics council.

He took a stand early on the transgender debate. In 1979 he put a stop to gender reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. A couple of years ago he co-authored a 143-page article on gender and sexuality in The New Atlantis, which was strongly criticised by LGBT scholars.

In the 1990s, McHugh was active in debunking “recovered memories”— the notion that people could suddenly and spontaneously remember childhood sexual abuse.

McHugh is still working full-time at Johns Hopkins, although he will soon turn 90. This week the online magazine Public Discourse published a long interview with him about his career, especially the challenge of transgender medicine. In the excerpt below, he comments on transgender medicine:

I also think there’s a love on the part of psychiatrists for being men of the secret and having their own magical secret. If somebody comes along and tells you “Here’s a wonderful magical secret that will open to you the nature of the world and the nature of humankind,” it’s usually silly in the long run. That’s usually picked up by people who have no traditional background of their own. After all, it’s a kind of golden calf; you come down from the mountain and really try to bring them something, and what do you find them doing? Dancing around the golden calf …

I’m amazed at the amount of power and weaponry that it’s gotten behind it now, with the government and law and even medical organizations getting behind it, but I’m absolutely convinced that this is folly and it’s going to collapse, just as the eugenics folly collapsed. Eugenics was quite as powerful, after all. I’m reassured that we psychiatrists have been everywhere before. Fortunately, Adolf Meyer, my predecessor at Johns Hopkins, was one of the few psychiatrists in the world, really, who said “I don’t think we can go this way with the eugenics movement.” And so I feel I’m in good company by saying this is going to collapse.

It’s going to collapse, particularly, in relationship to the injury to children, because these people are already beginning to build up evidence for the misdirection they were sent on. In Britain, the Keira Bell case that has just been handed down from their High Court is recognizing the very inadequate psychiatric approach that was taken to leading this girl to now be a very damaged person. So it’s coming. And what’s going to happen in my opinion, at least with the young, the people under the age of twenty-one, will be that there will be huge lawsuits.

I can tell you exactly how the suits are going to play out. You know that person is going to wake up at age twenty-five and realize that that she’s got a five o’clock shadow, she’s had various mutilations in the body, she’s infertile, and she’s going to say, “How did you let this happen?” And then parents are going to say, “Well, the doctor said…” So they’re going to say “Let’s sue the doctors.” They’re going to go to the doctors and say “What did you do this for?!” They’ll say, “That was a standard treatment for transgendered,” and the person is going to say, “But you see, I wasn’t transgendered, I was a child!” And they’re going to say “Holy smoke, you’re right, we can’t tell who’s transgendered, in truth.” And then the insurance companies are going to bail out, and a lot of people are going to be injured in reputation. But we’re going to be left with a number of much more injured patients. I’m very sure this is going to happen.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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