Israel’s Health Ministry bans conversion therapy

Photo: Can Pac Swire/Flickr

The Israeli Ministry of Health has banned medical professionals from engaging in conversion therapy designed to change a patient’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced the ban, touting the Health Department’s action as a “victory” and a “revolution” that will make the healthcare system “a flagship of human rights.” ‘man in Israel’, according to the Israel time.

Horowitz, who is gay, said the ban would save lives, saying conversion therapy leads to higher rates of self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide in people who undergo it. Such therapy, he said, “kills the soul and sometimes also the body.”

He also denounced the “charlatans” who deliver the therapy, accusing them of “brainwashing” people and “destroying lives”.

Under a directive issued by the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Nachman Ash, medical professionals trying to engage in efforts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity could do the subject to punitive measures, including the potential loss of their license to practice.

“Treatment is something that’s supposed to help, so what’s called ‘conversion therapy’ isn’t really ‘treatment’ but abuse,” Horowitz said at a press conference announcing the guideline, which states that sexual preference is not a psychological disorder.

Conversion therapy has been heavily criticized by major Western medical organizations, which have criticized practitioners’ classification of homosexuality as a “mental illness” and the pseudo-scientific methods often involved in such therapies.

Some studies have shown that conversion therapy tends to have more negative effects on those who undergo it, leading to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

LGBTQ advocates hailed the Department of Health’s ban. Israel Gay Youth called it “a breakthrough that will save lives, families and [the] the future of hundreds of boys and girls in Israel.

A 2021 study by The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youth who had undergone conversion therapy were twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who had not.

A similar peer-reviewed study, published in the American Journal of Public Healthfound that LGBTQ youth undergoing conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than two and a half times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.

However, conversion therapy still remains popular in some religious circles, especially in more conservative denominations that condemn homosexuality.

Even countries – or in the United States, states – that ban conversion therapy only prohibit medical professionals or licensed therapists from engaging in the practice, but do not restrict what a pastor or rabbi acting as a spiritual advisor can do.

In Israel, a bill banning conversion therapy has passed its first reading in the Knesset, the national legislature.

But even though the bill only affected therapists and did not prevent rabbis from engaging in the practice, the measure was never signed into law due to a backlash from Orthodox and conservative lawmakers who constitute important parts of the ruling coalition.

Maria J. Book