Gender-neutral language: Doctors warn of danger over “desexed” inclusive terms

A large group of researchers and academics is pushing back against moves to “desex” medical language to accommodate transgender and gender-diverse people, saying the terms used in the name of inclusion confuse health data and can lead to serious medical errors.
A letter signed by 120 researchers to peak funding body the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) also warns that blurring the lines between biological sex and gender identity on medical forms and in research threatens to widen what’s known as the female data gap.
“Using ‘women’ with a gendered meaning, that is grouping males and females together, when considering healthcare provision or undertaking research, has risks,” the letter says.
General practitioners in Victoria are being urged in a course on transgender and gender diverse health, conducted by official training provider Thorne Harbour Health, to issue new admission forms for patients that emphasise gender identity and not biological sex.
The Queensland Department of Health now invites “persons with a cervix” rather than “women” for cervical cancer screening in their health promotion materials.
Australia’s peak health statistics body, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare notes on its website that in its reports, “male or female may refer to either sex or gender, depending on the data source … so it can be unclear which is the focus”.
Of the 120 signatories of the letter, more than one-third are professors. It also includes a number of senior clinicians working in women’s health and nine women’s health organisations.
Another of the letter’s signatories, Dr Karleen Gribble from the Western Sydney University, said it was about having good data “because we can’t have good healthcare if we don’t have good data”.
Gribble – who in 2022 co-authored a paper with Dahlen on the “importance of sexed language” around pregnancy – cited a published case study of a person who turned up at an emergency department with abdominal pain.
“Their records said they were male but they were in labour. They had a prolapsed umbilical cord, but there was a delay while doctors worked out what was going on, and by the time they found it, the baby had died,” Gribble said.
In another case, a transgender man had a car accident and required intubation. The hospital mistook him for a biological man. “There are different-sized tubes between sexes and this person was intubated with an inappropriately large endotracheal tube for a long time, and ended up with serious injuries requiring multiple surgeries.”

Source: Gender-neutral language: Doctors warn of danger over “desexed” inclusive terms

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