Google Delists DIY Hormone Therapy Sites

“In the short term, they will be left with no healthcare at all. However, they will find alternatives, as they always have.”
Google Delists DIY Hormone Therapy Sites
Photo by Nathana Rebouças / Unsplash

Google has removed two websites providing “DIY” hormone replacement therapy used in gender-affirming care from search results at the request of the UK government, according to legal letters viewed by 404 Media. 

Both sites were temporarily offline after their domain registrar received letters from the UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) asking them to suspend their domain names. The sites did not appear in Google search results in the UK in our tests, but Google provides a link to the Lumen database, which keeps a record of takedown notices and other legal removal requests. The Lumen database showed that Google removed the two sites from search results at the request of the UK government. The sites still appear in search results in the United States. 

These sites will ship people drugs used in gender affirming care discreetly, and are often used by people who can’t get that care from their healthcare providers, or don’t want to suffer through diagnostic and legislative hurdles to get that care through their healthcare provider. 

This segment is a paid ad. If you’re interested in advertising, let's talk.
Robinhood x 404Media (1).jpg

You've heard of Robinhood, the financial investment application unicorn. Now you can get even deeper by upgrading to their premium product, Robinhood Gold, a new suite of powerful tools, data, and features designed to take your investing to the next level. Robinhood Gold also offers competitive yields, 3% IRA matching on every dollar, bigger instant deposits, enhanced insights, and lower margin rates.

Get 5.0% APY. Free for 30 days, then $5/month when you sign up. Now let's make the most of your money already!

The people operating one of these sites asked us not to name the sites because they worry doing so would lead to more enforcement against them, which would limit access to people who rely on the service they provide.

“Google has not contacted us and is not obligated to contact us, we believe,” an operator of one of these sites, who asked to remain anonymous, told me. “However, Google's decision to align itself with a government determined to strip its citizens of access to safe and timely healthcare is entirely in line with the deprecation of their former motto [‘don’t be evil’], and unsurprising on account of it.”

“We are guided by local law when it comes to removing content from Search,” a Google spokesperson told me in an email. “Under our policies, we remove pharmaceutical websites from our results when national pharmaceutical regulators determine that they are unlawful and send us a notice. When possible, we display a notification that results have been removed and report these removals to Lumen Database to provide transparency."

The Lumen database also provided the letters the MHRA sent the domain registrars, Namecheap and NiceNIC, and presumably Google, requesting they deny these sites service.

“The listed website has been identified as facilitating the commission of criminal offences relating to one or more of the applicable regulations of the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, which consolidate the law of the United Kingdom concerning medicinal products for human use,” the letter says, and then lists four regulations related to selling of medicinal products that the MHRA says the sites are violating. 

“The domain is offering the sale and supply of unauthorised medicines to persons in the UK,” the letter says. “The domain is not a registered pharmacy in the UK or, it appears, anywhere else in the world. The targeting of UK individuals in this way is illegal and presents a real risk of harm to public health in the UK.” (That last line is bolded in the letter).

The MHRA also asks the domain registrars to change the domain name to “Transfer Prohibited,” preventing it from being transferred to other registrars “thus preventing the continued facilitation of a crime,” according to the letter. 

The enforcement comes after last month’s release of the “Cass Review,” a major study commissioned by the UK’s National Health Services about gender identity care for young people. The Cass Review has become a major flashpoint in the UK and worldwide as it is being used by politicians to argue for less access to gender confirming care. 404 Media previously reported that the review uses AI-generated images of children. 

The operator of the site that’s been removed from Google search results told me that “The UK appears to have engaged and is still engaging in an attempt to soft-ban HRT for trans people, using the Cass Review as justification for doing so (despite the unaddressed laundry list of concerns that were raised before, during, and after the process) [...] This attempt to ban trans people has gone and will likely continue to go as well as outlawing abortion before Roe v. Wade went into effect in the US – notably in reference to coat hanger abortions.”

NiceNIC and Namecheap did not respond to a request for comment. MHRA did not respond to a request for comment. 

“In the short term, they will be left with no healthcare at all,” the site operator said when I asked what they think will happen to the people who relied on their service. “However, they will find alternatives, as they always have. Whether in pre-war Germany or at the many points within the UK's own sordid history regarding the LGBTQ community, trans people – and indeed the LGBTQ community as a whole – have never been anything but resilient. They will survive and hopefully be given the leeway to thrive; that begins with being able to access affordable and timely healthcare.”

As publications from doctors working at GICs [gender identity clinics] indicate, approximately 16-31% of people accessing GIC care admit to either previously or currently taking DIY HRT [hormone replacement therapy] at time of first appointment,” said a spokesperson from the Trans Safety Network, a research organization analyzing harm against trans people in the UK. “It is likely the true number of trans people taking DIY HRT in the UK is higher as this only accounts for people willing to disclose this who are within the GIC system.”

The Trans Safety Network spokesperson added that the only way to stop people from resorting to the gray market for HRT is to ensure it is available to anyone who wants or needs it at a reasonable time and price. 

“In practice this looks like the informed consent model that is common in much of the US, Spain and New Zealand, or being available OTC as it is in countries such as Brazil, Portugal and India,” the spokesperson said.

“There should be no need for sites like these,” the site’s operator said. “There's nothing I hate more than the fact that they are necessary, but people are tired of crying over the corpses of their friends. Ask any trans person, and you are likely to find that at least one of their close friends has died of suicide as a result of failures in healthcare or a lack of protection against discrimination [...] The availability of non-government sources of healthcare has saved lives, given the failures of the UK government, especially when people cannot afford to spend thousands of pounds to access healthcare privately and have no desire to die of old age or suicide in an NHS waiting room. Its availability is a moral good, and everything else is merely law demanding that you die.”