Ban on Conversion Therapy – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

The National Medical Commission (NMC) recently sent a letter to all of the State Medical Councils in India. In the letter, it has declared that Conversion Therapy is illegal and has classified it as a ‘profession misconduct’. It has also granted the State organisations the authority to take disciplinary action against medical practitioners who violate the norms. The NMC has acted in compliance with a decision from the Madras High Court to publish an official notification naming conversion therapy as a breach of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquettes, and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion therapy is also known as reparative therapy. It is an intervention that aims to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of an individual through the use of methods like psychiatric treatment, psychotherapy (talk therapy), drugs, exorcism, or even violence. The goal of the therapy is to make the individual a heterosexual.  Conversion therapy also includes efforts to transform the basic identity of young people whose gender identity contradicts their sexual anatomy.

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS), conversion therapy is also called ‘gay cure therapy’. In practice, it means trying to stop or suppress someone from being gay, or from living as a different gender than the sex they were born as. The BPS and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (the UK) have warned that all kinds of conversion therapy are ‘unethical and potentially harmful’.

Psychotherapy: It includes Talk therapy, behavioral, interpersonal, or cognitive therapies. Some teach stereotypical masculine and feminine behaviours or use hypnosis to try to change thought patterns for same-sex attraction. Another commonly used method is called ‘aversion therapy‘. In this practice, people are exposed to painful or uncomfortable sensations like electric shocks and nausea- or paralysis-causing drugs. This is done in hopes of forming a negative association with the person’s attractions or identity to ‘correct’ it.

Medical: This includes medicine, hormonal or steroid therapies. In extreme cases, gender-affirming surgeries are done to ‘neutralise’ sexual orientation especially among transgender people.

What are the issues with Conversion Therapy?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) has pointed out several issues with the Conversion Therapy.

Incorrect assumption: The therapies used in conversion therapy are given under the incorrect assumption that homosexuality and different gender identities are a health or mental defect that can be cured. They are not and the lack of disorder means that conversion or any other similar intervention is not required.

Unhealthy and Hazardous: Conversion therapy runs the danger of developing or aggravating mental health disorders like anxiety, stress, and drug use, which can occasionally even result in suicide. There is proof that these procedures hazardous. are As a result, ‘conversion therapies’ shouldn’t be used to treat children and adolescents for behavioural health issues.

Lacks scientific credibility: Such ‘conversion treatments’ lack scientific legitimacy and clinical efficacy because they are imposed with the goal of promoting a specific sexual orientation and/or gender as a desirable outcome.

Treatment  by Quacks: In most cases, the treatment is provided by quacks who have very little experience in effectively addressing the problem. They end up doing psychological or physical harm to the ‘patients’.

What was the ruling of Madras HC regarding Conversion Therapy?

A homosexual couple had petitioned before the Madras High Court against the forced ‘conversion therapy’ they were made to undergo by their families to ‘cure’ them. In June 2021, the Madras High Court issued a slew of interim guidelines for the Police, Union and State Social Welfare Ministries, and the National Medical Commission to ‘ensure their (of homosexual couple) safety and security to lead a life chosen by them‘.

The ruling prohibited any attempt to medically ‘cure’ or change the sexual orientation of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual or of any other orientation) people.

It urged the authorities to take action against ‘professional[s] involving themselves in any form or method of conversion therapy’ which could include the withdrawal of their licence to practise medicine.

In July 2022, the Madras HC further directed the National Medical Commission to ‘issue necessary official notification by enlisting “Conversion Therapy” as a professional misconduct‘. The NMC issued the directive to state medical councils in August 2022.

The Madras High Court ordered the police not to subject consenting adults (belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community) to harassment.

The Court also asked the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment to compile a list of NGOs and other organisations that could address the community’s problems.

The Court also ordered agencies to abide by the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020, and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, in letter and spirit. The Court ruled that it was crucial to hold sensitisation campaigns in an effort to fully comprehend the community and its needs.

What should be done going ahead?
Legal Basis

First, It is imperative that the recommendations made by the Madras High Court be put into action. India can also learn from the countries like Germany, Canada, Malta, Australia, and the US that have enacted legislation prohibiting conversion therapy.

Second, The Mental Healthcare Act prohibits medical treatment without agreement. It can be amended to include conversion therapy as well. This is because victims may consent to conversion therapy because they have ‘internalised’ a mistaken idea that ‘they are abnormal’.

Change in curriculum

According to the opinions of several experts, educational institutions like schools and colleges need to make modifications to their curriculum. Adolescents can be sensitized about gender identities when they are attaining maturity. Even today, homosexuality is classified as a ‘perversion’ and ‘an act of mental degenerates’ in many medical books.

Sensitisation

First, People who have diverse sexual orientations or gender identities frequently share traumatic accounts of being bullied, discriminated against, stigmatised, and socially excluded from their communities. This needs to be addressed.

Second, the initial point of misunderstanding and abuse often begins at home. Teenagers are compelled to opt for ‘conversion’ therapies. Parents also need to be made aware of the issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity.

The sensitization can be done through educational institutions, dedicated awareness campaigns and the involvement of civil society.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court’s decision (2018) to decriminalise homosexuality by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was a first step toward inclusivity. The notification issued by the NMC is another step in the right direction. However, there is still a lot to be done before the members of the LGBTQAI+ community can consider themselves to be in a more secure environment. The next step should be to bring about attitudinal change in the society through sensitization. This will help create a truly inclusive society.

Source: The Hindu, The Hindu, The Hindu, Indian Express

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