Medical commission comes down heavily on conversion therapy, activists welcome the move

Conversion therapy, which some even call 'quackery', is discriminatory and degrading and could push people to suicide, say doctors.

ByUmar Sharieef

Published Sep 06, 2022 | 12:00 PMUpdatedDec 31, 2022 | 3:19 PM


Doctors and mental health professionals attempting to make gay people go straight will be indulging in professional misconduct, India’s medical watchdog has ruled.

In a recent circular to its affiliates in the states, the National Medical Commission (NMC) has branded conversion therapy — any emotional or physical measure attempted to try and alter a person’s attraction towards members of the same sex — as “professional misconduct”.

The NMC circular also directed the state units to take disciplinary action against medical professionals who practised it.

NMC is the apex regulatory body of medical professionals in India.

Practitioners claim conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is “effective”, though mainstream medical and mental health organisations have rejected it.

The NMC circular follows a Madras High Court on July 8 directing it to list conversion therapy as professional misconduct.

NMC move welcomed

Gay rights activists such as Syama S Prabha, secretary of Queerthym, a registered organisation for the gay, bisexual and transgender community, have welcomed NMC’s move.

“Conversion therapy is an inherently discriminatory and degrading treatment conducted by medical professionals,” Syama told South First. “It affects an individual in several ways.”

The therapy could also cause mental pain and suffering for the victim, amounting to torture, “leaving indelible scars on body and mind”, she said.

Dwelling on the psychological aspect of conversion therapy, Syama said: “The combined effects of feeling powerless and extreme humiliation generate profound feelings of shame, guilt, self-disgust and worthlessness.”

This resulted in “a damaged self-concept and enduring personality changes, sometimes pushing people to suicide”.

‘Conversion therapy can make people suicidal’

Dr L Ramakrishnan, a health professional, too felt the practice can make people suicidal.

“Conversion therapy takes a deep psychological and physical toll on the LGBQ persons it is practised on,” said Dr Ramakrishnan, who is also vice president of Chennai-based human rights group Saathi.

“This can evoke feelings of self-hate and suicidality,” he told South First.

Abi Shankari, one of Chennai’s leading psychotherapists echoed the sentiments.

“Conversion therapy can take a long time, pushing those who opted for it to develop negative thoughts. Sometimes this may lead to suicide,” she said.

“The therapy also causes hormonal imbalance, this can also be the reason why it can lead to suicide.”

Tamil Nadu gazette explains ban

Tamil Nadu, which became the first state in India to ban conversion therapy on 7 June, 2021, has now officially explained why.

The latest Tamil Nadu Gazette, dated 22 August, says: “Practices that aim to ‘change’, ‘convert’ people from queer to heterosexual, from trans to cisgender, or gender nonconforming to gender conforming… are unethical, illegal and unscientific efforts that have been banned in Tamil Nadu.”

What the NMC order has done, says Madras High Court lawyer Manuraj Shunmugasundaram, is take a step towards eliminating “quackery”.

According to him, the State Medical Commission had the power under Chapter 7 of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations 2002 to deal with such professional misconduct.