News (World)

U.K. forces Google to remove websites selling gender-affirming medications

Hormonal pills. Gender symbols of man, woman and transgender. Colored tablets of blue, pink and purple color.
Photo: Shutterstock

The United Kingdom is continuing its attempt to make gender-affirming healthcare less accessible for transgender people by forcing Google’s search engine to remove any regional search results for two pharmaceutical websites that sell hormones without requiring a prescription. An operator of one of the sites said that Google was “not obligated” to remove it from its search listings, but Google said the removal was “guided by local law.”

Now, trans people in the U.K. will have to endure long waiting lists and high prices to get hormones through the government’s official National Health Service (NHS). The NHS has been reducing its services for trans people after the recent release of the heavily biased Cass Review, which excluded hundreds of studies to advise against providing gender-affirming care.

The U.K. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) reportedly contacted Google and told them to remove search results from the two sites, whose domain names and URLs have not been publicly identified in news reports. The MHRA said the sites violated the 2012 Human Medicines Regulations, a law that prohibits the sale of any “medicinal product from illegally trading online suppliers,” PinkNews reported.

“The domain is offering the sale and supply of unauthorized medicines to persons in the U.K.,” the MHRA’s letter stated. “The domain is not a registered pharmacy in the U.K. or, it appears, anywhere else in the world. The targeting of U.K. individuals in this way is illegal and presents a real risk of harm to public health in the U.K.”

In a statement to the aforementioned publication, the MHRA wrote, “Purchasing from illegal suppliers means there are no safeguards to ensure products meet the MHRA’s standards for quality and safety, and taking such medicines may put one’s health at risk.”

It’s unclear if any medications sold by the two de-listed websites had been accused of compromised quality or safety. Similar websites operate in various countries, offering pharmaceutical products manufactured elsewhere at reduced prices. Such sites don’t always offer comprehensive information about the drugs’ proper use and possible interactions with other medications.

“Instances of U.K.-based non-compliant activity relating to the online advertising, sale or supply of medicines are reviewed by the MHRA on a case-by-case basis and appropriate action taken. Enforcement options include removing or blocking the offending weblink, remedial intervention to bring the owner into compliance, or a criminal investigation and possible prosecution.”

However, an operator of one of the sites told 404 Media, “Google’s decision to align itself with a government determined to strip its citizens of access to safe and timely healthcare is… unsurprising.”

“In the short term, [trans people] will be left with no healthcare at all. However, they will find alternatives, as they always have.”

LGBTQ Nation reached out to Google for comment and this article will be updated if they respond.

The U.K. has taken several major steps towards deny gender-affirming care over the last few years. The NHS announced in 2022 that it planned to close the Tavistock gender-affirming clinic for trans youth and instead offer gender-affirming care in a larger number of local clinics.

April saw the release of the Cass Review, a 400-page review of oft-cited research on gender-affirming care for minors. The review concluded that there’s little reliable evidence showing positive outcomes from such care, but outraged trans activists accused the review of excluding hundreds of studies showing such outcomes.

Trans rights advocates predicted the Cass Review would give conservative political leaders a pretext for ending gender-affirming care for minors and younger adults. Indeed, the review urged “extreme caution” before giving minors puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy and championed the use of psychological therapy instead. The review also said that “life-changing” decisions on gender-affirming care should be put off until adulthood since the brain continues maturing into the mid-20s.

Trans journalist Erin Reed eviscerated Cass’s findings, saying the report included concepts rejected by more than 60 mental health organizations, including the American Psychological Association.

Since the release of the report, the NHS has also ordered the clinics to deny services to any clients younger than 18. Transgender healthcare advocates worry that the denial of service will worsen trans minors’ mental health and overall well-being.

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