Nicola Sturgeon refuses to say whether Scottish children under 16 can consent to puberty blocking drugs

Nicola Sturgeon refused to comment on whether children under the age of 16 are able to consent to puberty blocking drugs after she was challenged on the issue during First Minister’s Questions.

Keira Bell, 23, who began taking puberty blockers when she was 16 before "detransitioning" speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London after a landmark High Court ruling.
Keira Bell, 23, who began taking puberty blockers when she was 16 before "detransitioning" speaks to the media outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London after a landmark High Court ruling.

Scottish Labour MSP Jenny Marra raised the recent High Court judgement in England, which saw three judges rule it was unlikely children under the age of 16 could consent to the use of the drugs.

The drugs are often prescribed to delay puberty for children diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

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Court verdict on puberty blockers won't affect Scottish children

But in a case brought by 23-year-old Keira Bell, who was prescribed the drugs at the age of 16 in England, the judges said it was “doubtful” a child under 16 “could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers”.

Asked what the Scottish Government's position was on whether children under 16 could consent to take puberty blocking drugs, Ms Sturgeon said the issue was best answered by clinicians.

She said: "I think decisions on treatment pathways are best made by clinicians in consultation with patients following all the appropriate guidelines.

"I don’t think it is the role of the Scottish Government to intervene in such decisions.

"Young people can only be considered for puberty blockers after thorough psychological and endocrine assessment as per the clinical guidelines and anyone who commences puberty blockers continues to receive regular psychological review and support appointments."

In response, Ms Marra said: “It is interesting that the First Minister doesn’t think that the democratic process and the courts can overrule a medical opinion because that is exactly what happened in the English High Court last week.

"I support the right and medical support for every child to live their best lives, but the judgement in the English High Court last week was very specifically on children’s capacity to consent.

"Law and society does not deem that children have capacity to consent to sex, to marriage, and the High Court said last week that neither do they have the capacity to consent to life-altering fertility changing drugs until they are 16.

"But we know that NHS Scotland continues to give these drugs in the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow to children as young as 11.

"With her legal background, can the First Minister tell me if she agrees that children do lack the legal capacity to give informed consent to these drugs and if she does agree with that, will she instruct with her power the Scottish NHS to stop giving these drugs to our children?”

Refusing to be drawn on the question, Ms Sturgeon said: "I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on court action or court decisions that occurred in England,

"The ruling in the High Court in England, and this is a matter of fact not of opinion, has no formal status in Scotland.

"The young people’s service at Sandyford works within the existing guidelines.

"I think decisions on the type of treatment are for clinicians to make.

"Jenny Marra refers to my legal background, I have no clinical or medical background and I feel it is important that these are matters for clinicians and if this Parliament wants to look at these issues in a policy sense, of course it is always open to the Parliament to do so.”

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