For many years, medical professionals have pressured parents of children with intersex conditions to consent to surgery to try to “fix” them. Not only do the surgeries not do what the doctors promise, they often lead to other difficulties, such as reduced sexual sensation, sexual dysfunction, scarring and chronic pain, and the assigned sex might not be how that person’s gender identity develops. Plus, there’s often a lot of fear, silence, secrecy, and shame around it.
Advocates for Informed Choice has been working to give parents and families the information they need to be able to make their decisions without being pressured by medical staff. Now, they’ve partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and pro bono counsel for the private law firms of Janet, Jenner & Suggs and Steptoe & Johnson LLP to file a lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services, Greenville Hospital System, Medical University of South Carolina and individual employees for performing an irreversible and medically unnecessary surgery on an infant in the state’s care.
The child, M.C., was born with an intersex condition that resulted in sexual organs that could not be easily labeled as male or female. While they didn’t know what gender identity would eventually develop for M.C., the defendants performed surgery and removed his healthy phallus in order to make him a girl. At eight years old, M.C. has identified as a boy and shows signs of developing a male gender identity. Many of these surgeries are forced on children and their families without being medically necessary. It makes much more sense to assign a gender at birth, while also making room for the child to develop their ow gender identity and make their own decisions about their bodies.
According to the AIC press release:
The lawsuit charges that the defendants’ actions violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution by subjecting M.C. to “a medically unnecessary surgery that altered M.C.’s body and permanently limits M.C.’s ability to procreate without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.’s best interest.”
The lawsuit also charges that the doctors committed medical malpractice by failing to obtain adequate informed consent before proceeding. The defendants told M.C.’s guardians to allow the sex assignment surgery but did not include information concerning the significant risks of the surgery or the alternative of not having surgery at all. Most important, they did not notify them the surgery itself was medically unnecessary.
It’s unfortunate that it takes something like this to change the medical system that has been harming so many people. But attitudes about gender and reinforcing the gender binary are slow to adapt to more current understandings of how bodies and gender work. I hope that this lawsuit will bring some much-needed attention to this issue and help people see that adults’ anxiety about gender differences doesn’t need to be imposed on the bodies of children.
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