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Israel: Doctors ban gay conversion therapy as risks ‘mental damage’

A ban on conversion therapy by Israeli doctors will help protect gay people from treatments that claim to make them straight, but more work needs to be done with religious groups that support controversial ‘cures’, activists said on Wednesday.

Members who perform conversion therapy could now be expelled from the Israel Medical Association (IMA), which represents 90 percent of the country’s doctors, if a complaint is filed to its ethics committee, said IMA spokeswoman Ziva Miral.

“The treatments to change one’s sexual orientation have been found to be ineffective and could cause mental damage, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies”, the IMA said in a position paper on the practice.

Conversion therapy, which can include hypnosis and electric shocks, is based on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness that can be cured.

It is used in many countries, except Malta, Ecuador, and just over a dozen US states, that have outlawed it, according to the ILGA. Several states are considering bans, including Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

Ruth Gophen, one of the authors of IMA’s paper, published on Monday, said it was impossible to estimate how many Israelis have undergone conversion therapy because it is usually done secretly as most doctors view it as unethical.

Israel is one of a handful of Middle Eastern countries – along with Jordan and Bahrain – that allow same-sex relations, in a region where several states impose a death penalty.

But many religious communities in Israel, where three-quarters of its 9 million-strong population are Jewish, are deeply conservative.

Chen Arieli, chairwoman of the Israeli LGBT Association, described the IMA’s ban on conversion therapy as a “breakthrough” but said outlawing the practice could make it harder to eradicate in communities where it is prevalent.

“We need to have a holistic approach regarding conversion treatment”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Our goal is to strengthen the religious LGBT organisations, to help them outreach (to) those youth that may be at risk of having conversion treatment”.

Julien Bahloul, spokesman for the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers, which campaigns for gay couples to become parents, said he hoped parliament would now pass a law making conversion therapy illegal.

“The fact that professional people, doctors, say today that this kind of therapy … is not acceptable and not in any way related to medicine is a huge victory for us,” he said.

However, Bahloul cautioned that it would depend on the results of elections scheduled for April 9.

It is often not possible to form a government in Israel without going into coalition with smaller parties, many of which are religious.

-Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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