A woman in Ontario who identified as transgender and underwent hormone therapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and a hysterectomy filed the first lawsuit in Canada against her healthcare providers for facilitating her transition.
Michelle Zacchigna, a 34-year-old woman from Orillia, Ontario, recently announced a lawsuit she filed against the eight doctors and mental health professionals who treated her over the years, alleging that they failed to address her complex mental health needs and instead allowed her to self-diagnose as transgender and undergo irreversible procedures that she now regrets.
“I’ve been holding this card close to my chest for a while, and I’m ready to show it,” said Zacchigna on Tuesday. “In November 2022, I commenced legal action against the Canadian health care providers that facilitated my medical transition in Ontario.”
Zacchigna’s story began in 2009 when she was 21, after having spent years dealing with depression, anxiety, self-harm, and a suicide attempt, when she discovered the concept of “gender identity” online. She became convinced that all her problems were due to being transgender, a belief that was never challenged by healthcare providers.
In spring 2010, Zacchigna attended a support group in Toronto called “Gender Journeys,” where she met a doctor who referred her for male hormone therapy after a single hour-long appointment. Zacchigna’s regular therapist also recommended hormone therapy, despite being aware of her long history of serious mental health issues. After three appointments with another doctor, Zacchigna was prescribed testosterone.
In 2012, a surgeon in Florida removed Zacchigna’s breasts after she received a letter from her doctors recommending her for a bilateral mastectomy. In 2017, Zacchigna underwent a hysterectomy after being referred by another doctor. By 2019, Zacchigna made the decision to detransition after realizing that her mental health diagnoses and developmental disabilities explained the problems she was experiencing “much more succinctly than identifying as transgender ever had.” She now deeply regrets the irreversible procedures that she underwent.
“I will live the rest of my life without breasts, with a deepened voice and male-pattern balding, and without the ability to get pregnant. Removing my completely healthy uterus is my greatest regret,” Zacchigna wrote in a blog post for Lighthouse Forum.
Zacchigna’s lawsuit claims that the healthcare providers who treated her failed to address her serious mental health issues and developmental disabilities and instead offered her irreversible medical interventions.
“The Defendants permitted Michelle to self-diagnose as transgender and prescribe her own treatment without providing a differential diagnosis or proposing alternative treatments,” reads the Statement of Claim filed to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Zacchigna alleges that her desire to become transgender was never challenged, and that she was not provided adequate counseling or therapy. She believes that the “affirmative” model of gender care is to blame, in which clinicians “affirm” a patient’s self-diagnosis of being transgender and provide them with medical interventions instead of psychological therapy that explores the underlying reasons why individuals might experience distress over their bodies.
Zacchigna’s experience highlights the lack of inquiry into patients’ mental health, well-being, and reasons for seeking “gender-affirming” healthcare. Despite her longstanding history of mental health struggles and no indication of gender-related distress in adolescence or childhood, Zacchigna was still allowed to proceed with irreversible procedures that have lifelong effects.
Zacchigna is among a group of detransitioned individuals taking legal action against gender-affirming healthcare providers, claiming that they failed to address their underlying mental health needs and caused them harm. Francis Shapiro Munn is representing Zacchigna on a contingency basis, but she is also crowdfunding to cover expenses such as obtaining medical records and hiring experts.
“Through this action I am not only seeking justice for myself but also hoping to raise awareness about the reckless nature of ‘gender-affirming’ health care,” Zacchigna said.
“Concerns about it have been raised internationally, with several countries altering their approach in response to systematic reviews of the evidence. However, here in Canada, discussion about it has barely gotten off the ground. I hope to start the conversation,” she added.
Sweden, England, and Finland have conducted systematic reviews of the available evidence on pediatric medical transition, as has Florida’s Boards of Medicine, with each concluding that the risks far outweigh any purported benefits. This resulted in the closure of prominent gender clinics, strict restrictions on the use of cross-sex hormones, and banning gender-related surgeries for minors. Italy, Australia, and Spain’s medical bodies have also recently raised similar concerns.
In the US, Chloe Cole and Camille Kiefel are also suing healthcare providers for facilitating their medical transition. Kiefel and Zacchigna both claim that they were vulnerable adults suffering from mental illness at the time they consented to irreversible medical interventions, and Cole was only 13 years old when she began her transition.