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Detransition and regret after 'gender-affirming surgery'

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

(Published in 'The Scotsman' letters August 2023)

"Regretfully Yours"

The Scotsman’s latest article by Vic Valentine, “Transgender debate: Gender-affirming surgeries have a ‘regret rate’ of one per cent or less. For knee replacements, its 17 per cent” (Perspective, 18 August), presents unreliable and deeply flawed statistics. Valentine first quotes a study of nearly 3,500 people attending the Tavistock Gender clinic in London, claiming that only 0.47 per cent had any regrets. The statistic comes from a non-peer reviewed conference abstract looking at patients attending the clinic from 2016-17. None of the individuals were directly asked about feelings of regret. The 0.47 per cent regret rate comes from merely scanning the patient records for words like “regret” or “detransition”. Since most who detransition never return to their clinics, because they distrust the clinicians and resent them, this statistic is meaningless. Also, the study only looks at regret a mere two years after being seen at the clinic. Regret is usually much later.

The other study quoted states that only one per cent of those who have gender-affirming surgeries regret such treatment. This is, presumably, from a similarly flawed study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (9 August 2023) looking at regret following mastectomies. But the time frame was insufficient: only an average of 3.6 years post-surgery. There was a very high non-participation rate, clearly skewing the results in favour of those who did not regret. There was no control group. There was a highly politicised (as opposed to scientific) commentary and there was clear conflict of interest with authors being involved in the gender-affirming surgery industry.

I have met detransitioners, who really do regret their surgeries; people suffering because they have had either healthy breasts or genitalia removed. They have been permanently physically and mentally scarred. We should be alarmed and ashamed of what our health services are doing to such people in this field.

(Dr) Antony Latham, Chair of Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, Edinburgh

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