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Doctors: Gay conversion therapy should be banned in U.S.

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Gay conversion therapy can include electroshock therapy, drugs, hormones and surgery, and cause significant psychological distress and conditions in people forced into it. Photo by StockSnap/Pixabay
Gay conversion therapy can include electroshock therapy, drugs, hormones and surgery, and cause significant psychological distress and conditions in people forced into it. Photo by StockSnap/Pixabay

So-called "conversion therapy" can trigger depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts and attempts, and it should be banished in the United States, medical experts say in a new report.

Conversion therapy is used in an attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, most typically to turn someone who is gay into a "straight" person.

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Electroshock therapy, chemical drugs, hormone administrations and surgery are among the methods that have been used in conversion therapy, noted a team of experts reporting Aug. 8 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

While the use of such extreme methods has declined, other types of conversion therapy can still harm U.S. children, teens and adults, according to the report.

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Only 18 U.S. states have banned conversion therapy for people younger than 18, and no states have banned conversion therapy for adults.

"As a result of the lack of regulation on these 'therapies,' many adults and children continue to be defrauded, harmed and traumatized in the U.S. every day," said report lead author Dr. Carl Streed, Jr. He is a primary care physician at Boston Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine.

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"In addition to the health problems associated with conversion therapies, these practices also carry serious economic burdens for LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning] people and the country at large, including low educational achievement, lower income and lower work performance," added Streed, who treats patients at the Center for Transgender Medicine & Surgery at BMC.

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It's important for doctors to be aware of this issue because many victims of conversion therapy keep silent about it, and doctors need to be taught how to identify patients who've had or may be undergoing conversion therapy, the report's authors said.

They also believe that medical schools and training programs need to better prepare future doctors to care for LGBTQ people, including identifying and treating trauma caused by conversion therapy.

"Put simply, these practices need to end," Streed said in a medical center news release. "We need to work across sectors to focus on ensuring that all individuals of all ages receive appropriate, comprehensive care by trained medical professionals in a supportive environment."

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More information

The Human Rights Campaign has more on conversion therapy.

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