A viral fake news story linked trans health care to 'thousands' of deaths
A recent article published by Catholic news outlet LifeSiteNews alleged that the drugs used to treat gender dysphoria in some transgender children are linked to “thousands” of deaths.
The story went viral on right-wing news websites such as the Christian Post and the Daily Wire. According to CrowdTangle, a social media metric platform, these posts — including shares by Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro and commentator Matt Walsh — are currently some of the top performing LGBTQ-related content on Facebook and Twitter.
The problem is: the “thousands” of people who die while taking these drugs are likely the terminally ill cancer patients who receive hormone blockers to fight hormone-sensitive cancers, like prostate cancer, according to experts.
Joshua Safer, a professor of medicine and the executive director of the Mt. Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, said Lupron, or leoprolide acetate, is used for treating precocious puberty, infertility and certain types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is worsened by the presence of certain hormones, so people fighting this disease are sometimes given hormone blockers — puberty blockers — to slow the cancer’s progression.
“I think all they did is went into the FDA database and looked at reports,” Safer said. “There’s no study here, that’s just a big smorgasbord of reports and so the problem with that is you don’t even know that those deaths are connected to the agent they are reported to be connected to.”
Much more likely, Safer said, is that the 6,370 deaths over four decades the FDA lists as connected to this drug are in terminally ill cancer patients who are prescribed Lupron as a palliative, not curative, treatment.
“They wouldn’t even be using it if they weren’t at risk of death,” Safer said of the drug’s use in prostate cancer patients.
The American Cancer Association estimates that there are roughly 30,000 deaths from prostate cancer annually in the United States.
The original LifeSiteNews story, which was modified after initial publication, said that the UK’s National Health Service is “investigating” these drugs. A spokesperson for the NHS told NBC News that “no special review is being launched” into the use of this drug for the treatment of gender dysphoria and noted that all transgender health care services are regularly reviewed.
The NHS’ own guidelines for the treatment of children with gender dysphoria notes that “psychological support and puberty suppression have both been shown to be associated with an improved global psychosocial functioning” in youth. “Both interventions may be considered effective in the clinical care of psychosocial functioning difficulties in adolescents with [gender dysphoria].”
“Every decision in medicine involves weighing risks and benefits,” said Jack Turban, a resident physician in psychiatry who researches transgender youth at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Turban said that for trans youth, “the potential mental health benefits of pubertal suppression far outweigh any potential risks.”
“Allowing puberty to progress is not a neutral decision for many transgender youth,” Turban said. “Many of these youth see their mental health drastically deteriorate as puberty starts to progress. While pubertal suppression is reversible, puberty itself is not.”
Heron Greenesmith, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, tracks anti-transgender rhetoric in mainstream media and said the article “exemplifies LifeSiteNews’ membership in the Christian-right anti-transgender disinformation ecosystem.”
“LifeSite platforms the small number of anti-trans researchers, academics, and right-wing professional associations, giving their work a veneer of scientific validity,” Greenesmith said. “Advocacy organizations can then cite LifeSite, in turn giving their advocacy a veneer of journalistic independence.”
Gillian Branstetter, a spokesperson for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said the publication of this article was “dangerous”.
“Transgender youth face a public health crisis in this country, and families must already fight through significant barriers to accessing adequate health care,” Branstetter wrote. “Much like vaccines, I would encourage news outlets and social media to be extremely sensitive to the risks posed by lies about transition-related health care promoted by bad actors.”
NBC News has reached out to LifeSiteNews for comment.