Mar 22, 2022

Rights of LGBTIQA+ : No more conversion therapy

Guest post by Pallavi Mohan

Recently, the Madras High Court directed the National Medical Council to inform all State Medical Councils to take action for professional misconduct against any medical professional who is providing ‘conversion therapy’ to any LGBTIQA+ person.

What is ‘conversion therapy’?

Conversion therapy is an attempt to change the sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+ people to heterosexual, cis-gender people. It can involve spiritual intervention, exorcisms, physical assault, corrective rape and food suppression. Medical attempts to cure homosexuality include hormonal therapy and electro convulsive treatment. Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, and Homeopathy are also used to treat trans and gender non-conforming people.

What is the stand of the medical community as far as homosexuality  and transsexualism is concerned?

The curriculum for MBBS students in India is set by the National Medical Commission (previously Medical Council of India). The Forensic medicine curriculum describes “sodomy”, “lesbianism” and oral sex as sexual offence and transvestism (cross-dressing) as “sexual perversion”. This means that outdated and unscientific knowledge is being given to medical students, some of whom refuse to treat LGBTIQA+ people, physically examine or operate upon them or negligently perform conversion therapy on them.

Why did the Madras High Court need to issue such a direction?

In early 2021, the Madras High Court heard a case of a lesbian couple who had to flee their home after being harassed and were seeking police protection from their parents’ intimidation. In an unprecedented move, the judge hearing the case underwent counselling and spoke to members of the LGBTQ community to understand ‘the lived experiences of a homosexual couple’.

The judge then issued these directions in June 2021 to medical authorities –

  • To prohibit any attempts to medically “cure” or change the sexual orientation of LGBTIQA+ people to heterosexual or the gender identity of transgender people to cisgender.
  • To act against any professional involved in any form of conversion therapy, including withdrawal of license to practice.

In August 2021, the judge referred to incidents of psychiatrists prescribing antidepressants, erectile-dysfunction drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy to cure differences in gender identity and sexuality. The judge issued directions to the National Medical Council and Indian Psychiatric Society to explain how they intended to handle this issue in the future by making changes in the curriculum.

In response to this direction, the National Medical Council set up a Committee to give recommendations on the changes to be introduced in the curriculum.

What were the recommendations of the Committee set up by the National Medical Council?

The Committee clarified that administration of “conversion therapy” amounted to professional misconduct. It recommended that the National Medical Council – Ethics and Medical Registration Board ought to take action whenever “conversion therapies” are administered by any medical professional.

Based on the same, the Madras High Court directed the National Medical Commission to circulate the recommendations of the Committee to all State Medical Councils so that they could prosecute medical professionals involved in such actions.

To learn more about the rights of LGBTIQA+ persons with regard to healthcare, read our explainer.