Sep 22, 2022 - Politics

Lee calls for investigation of VUMC

Photo illustration of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee with lines radiating from him.
Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gov. Bill Lee called for a state investigation into Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and a top Republican lawmaker promised changes to state law after social media posts criticizing transgender services at the facility created an uproar online.

Driving the news: Conservative media personality Matt Walsh, who has over 1 million Twitter followers, criticized Vanderbilt for the transgender care it offers to minors.

  • Walsh's posts included a video of a doctor touting medical care for transgender people as financially lucrative.
  • In another video, an executive says it was "problematic" for employees to opt out of performing certain procedures because they have conscientious objections for religious reasons.
  • According to VUMC, Walsh's tweets "misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients." VUMC says it opened the Transgender Health Clinic in 2018 to address mental and physical health issues among transgender people.

Why it matters: Lee said in a prepared statement the matter warrants a "thorough investigation." The governor has shared his concerns with the state attorney general's office, his spokesperson tells Axios.

  • A legislative effort is coming, according to state Rep. William Lamberth, a Sumner County Republican, who said in a tweet he supports the investigation. There is no state law barring procedures for transgender people.

The other side: In response to the political criticism, Vanderbilt University Medical Center released a statement explaining that its transgender health clinic was launched because "transgender individuals are a high-risk population for mental and physical health issues and have been consistently underserved by the U.S. health system."

  • "VUMC requires parental consent to treat a minor patient who is to be seen for issues related to transgender care, and never refuses parental involvement in the care of transgender youth who are under age 18," the hospital said in its statement, which did not specify which procedures for minors it has performed or how many.
  • Employees may decline to participate in care they find "morally objectionable" and VUMC does not permit discrimination against employees who choose to do so, according to the statement.

What he's saying: "We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain," Lee said.

Zoom out: Hospitals across the country have been targeted with internet harassment over the care they offer transgender patients. A woman was arrested for threatening to bomb Boston Children's Hospital last month.

Meanwhile: During its most recent session, Tennessee's legislature passed a slate of laws targeting transgender issues, including banning transgender athletes in female college sports.

Details: The Journal of the American Medical Association released research earlier this year finding that gender-affirming care — including puberty blockers and hormones — was associated with lower odds of depression and suicide over a 12-month follow-up.

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