Health Ministry warns against LGBT conversion therapies

Ministry says there is no scientific evidence that treatment works; Orthodox gay group blasts recommendation

Illustrative: Israelis take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem on August 1, 2013. (photo credit: Sarah Schuman/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis take part in the annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem on August 1, 2013. (photo credit: Sarah Schuman/Flash90)

The Health Ministry issued a warning on Sunday against conversion therapy that purports to alter the sexual orientation of homosexuals, arguing that there is no scientific proof that the treatment is effective. In addition, the ministry charged practitioners of the controversial methods with misleading their patients.

The recommendation drew criticism from an offshoot Orthodox homosexual group, which maintained that the ministry misconstrued the Israeli Psychological Association position paper on which this decision was based, and argued that while the treatment had negative effects on some of its patients, others reported that it worked.

“In practice, there is no scientific evidence for the success of any method of conversion, and there is even testimony on possible damage,” the Health Ministry said in a statement on Sunday. The ministry said the reparative method “create a false impression,” of scientific backing, which it does not in practice enjoy.

Health Minister Yael German welcomed the decision, stating that it served “as further proof that sexual orientation is innate; it’s not something that can or should be changed.

“Sexual orientation is part of a person’s identity, and does not require ‘treatment’ or ‘repair,'” she added.

Kamoha, an Orthodox-LGBT organization, said Sunday that the Health Ministry’s adoption of the Israel Psychological Association paper was “inaccurate, to say the least,” and added that the paper offered no concrete decisions, but rather only “guidelines.”

In the paper, the researchers concluded that the research backing conversion therapy were “very slim,” but conceded that “one must assume that reasons of ‘political correctness’ pose difficulties to the funding and publishing of studies concerning the possible effectiveness of conversion therapies.”

The paper then concluded that psychologists “cannot ignore the existing body of information that indicates that conversion therapies are ineffective.”

“In other words, the empirical research on the subject is still unclear,” and the minister’s remarks are therefore unwarranted, Kamoha said in a statement.

The organization runs a program that subsidizes therapy for interested parties. It has come under fire in the past for endorsing the marriages of religious gay men to lesbian women.

The group maintained it “recognizes the right of those interested in psychological treatment on the subject of their sexual orientation to seek this treatment option… This is consistent with our familiarity with people who were unsuccessfully treated, and in contrast, people who were helped by therapy and managed to cultivate their passion for women,” it said.

Meanwhile, other LGBT groups hailed the Health Ministry opposition to the therapy, arguing that many people had been harmed by the treatment.

“Many teenagers continue to suffer under the treatment of practitioners, many of whom are not professionally recognized,” Rabbi Ron Yosef, the head of the LGBT Orthodox Hod organization told Channel 2.

The Health Ministry is “exposing the lie that some rabbis and religious leaders” have spread, he said.

Reparative therapies have been strongly discouraged in the US, with major health organizations pointing to what they term its pseudo-scientific methods, and its treatment of homosexuality as a mental illness.

The American Psychological Association said “such efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

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