The Professional Association for Transgender Health SA (Pathsa) has become the latest organisation to join the growing calls for action to be taken against local doctor Sybrand de Vaal for his comments allegedly promoting harmful psychiatric practices with respect to transgender children.
This as an online petition has amassed more than 2 100 signatures.
Medical institutions around the world have cautioned that conversion therapy practices were ineffective and potentially harmful, with concerns raised over validity, efficacy and ethics.
Pathsa expressed its concerns, saying it was with “great dismay” that it recognised the suggestions made by a medical professional advocating in favour of conversion therapy.
“In 2020, reparative or conversion therapy has no role in the health care of trans or gender diverse people, regardless of age.
’’The practice is one that has been universally denounced by professional medical bodies the world over as being not just unethical and ineffective, but barbaric, and the suggestion that these modalities should be employed in the best interests of a trans or gender diverse patient is a harmful one,” Pathsa said.
Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition director Dr Marion Stevens has lodged a complaint with UCT’s Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health against De Vaal for allegedly making the comments in a meeting where both were in attendance. Stevens said she had also lodged a complaint with the Health Professions Council of SA on the matter.
The HPCSA confirmed receiving a complaint from members of the public, saying the matter was under investigation.
De Vaal is currently a senior medical officer at Lentegeur Hospital Intellectual Disability Services and a psychiatry student at UCT.
On October 16, he participated in a meeting called by the Western Cape Education Department to finalise “Guidelines on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation for Public Schools”.
De Waal was introduced as an “independent expert” with expertise in “psychiatry and gender”, Stevens said.
“His presentation was poorly informed by clinical and research evidence and cited one study. What was of deep concern was his advocating for a framing of a version of reparative therapy or ‘conversion therapy’.
“While he argued this was not conversion therapy, this is essentially semantics as he was suggesting that gender diversity is a choice and can be addressed therapeutically to cure it.
“These practices are well known to be harmful to children and have been banned in many parts of the world,” she added.
Stevens said it was further concerning to her that De Vaal was presenting himself and consulting as an independent expert.
“He is not qualified as a psychiatrist and we were told in the meeting that he is currently completing this training at UCT.
’’An expert usually has experience in research and has published in peer-reviewed journals or books, and he has one publication related to his diploma in Family Medicine in relation to antenatal care.”
De Vaal’s lawyer, Craig Snyders, said the allegations were part of the HPCSA complaint.
“Dr De Vaal will be responding to the complaint in due course in accordance with the HPCSA complaints procedure. Dr De Vaal is in the process of preparing a statement to clarify his position, based on what can be concluded from academic and medical research studies on the clinical disorder, gender dysphoria, and the best clinical care response to gender incongruence in prepubescent and adolescent children,” Snyders said.
UCT said it was in the process of addressing the matter with De Vaal directly.
“With regard to the matters raised in communication from Dr Marion Stevens, director of the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition, UCT takes these claims seriously and will respond directly to Dr Stevens as soon as we have concluded our internal process,” spokesperson,Nombuso Shabalala said.
Meanwhile, the Western Cape Department of Education said it would consider input by all participants.