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How Young Is Too Young: Ethical Concerns in Genital Surgery of the Transgender MTF Adolescent




During the last decade, the age of youths presenting for gender confirmation has steadily fallen. Transgender adolescents are being treated with gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogues and subsequently cross-sex hormones at early or midpuberty, with genital surgery as the presumed final step in treatment for female-affirmed (male-to-female) individuals. Despite the minimum age of 18 as eligibility to undergo irreversible procedures, anecdotal reports show that vaginoplasties of female-affirmed patients under 18 have been performed by surgeons, thereby contravening the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care.


The purpose of this article is (i) to provide a review of salient factors regarding genital surgery in transgender adolescents; (ii) to review various ethical protocols for determining maturity in gender dysphoric individuals under 18; and (iii) to present a new systematic set of ethical principles largely derived from the surgical management of youths with disorders of sex development and adapted to the needs of transitioning adolescents.


A literature review of the topic was performed. Ethical guidelines derived from applied treatment protocols of children with disorders of sex development were written.

Main Outcome Measure

Progressing from the current state of ethical standards and clinical assumptions, a new development of ethical guidelines for genital surgery in the female-affirmed transgender adolescent was created.


There were no controlled studies of vaginoplasties performed on female-affirmed adolescents under 18 years of age. A new set of ethical guidelines was created in order to support treatment professionals in their decision making process.


Professionals across disciplines treating female-affirmed adolescents can utilize the proposed ethical guidelines to facilitate decision making on a case-by-case basis in order to protect both patients and practitioners. These guidelines may also be used in support of more open discussions and disclosures of surgical results that could further the advancement of treatment in this emerging population. Milrod C. How young is too young: Ethical concerns in genital surgery of the transgender MTF adolescent. J Sex Med 2014;11:338–346.

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