Rights group calls on US to end surgeries on intersex children News
Rights group calls on US to end surgeries on intersex children

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] issued an expansive report [press release] on Tuesday calling for a “moratorium” on surgeries designed to “normalize” intersex children, those who are “are born with chromosomes, gonads, sex organs, or genitalia that differ from those seen as socially typical for boys and girls.” The 160-page report, titled “I Want to be Like Nature Made Me: Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on Intersex Children in the United State” [text], is the product of a collaborative effort by HRW and interACT [advocacy website], an advocacy group. The report claims that as many as 1.7 percent of babies are “different from what is typically called a boy or a girl,” a condition once referred to as being a “hermaphrodite,” a term now considered pejorative and outdated. Researchers for HRW and interSEX interviewed “intersex adults, parents of intersex children, and medical practitioners working with intersex people” during their study. The report concludes that children who are “too young” to participate in a decision regarding whether to undergo surgery with permanent and often painful surgery should not be subjected to such surgeries, despite a physician’s recommendation that the surgery could lead to less “bullying and harassment” from peers.

“[We] believe that this approach has it exactly backwards: the experience of those who have undergone the surgery and principles of medical ethics suggest that unless and until there is outcome data establishing that the medical benefits of specific surgical procedures on infants and young children outweigh the potential harms, they should not be used. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch and interACT are urging a moratorium on all surgical procedures that seek to alter the gonads, genitals, or internal sex organs of children with atypical sex characteristics too young to participate in the decision, when those procedures both carry a meaningful risk of harm and can be safely deferred.

Many challenges related to individuals identified as intersex, including the recognition of “intersex” as a gender status, have emerged in recent years. Arvind Narrain [official profile] of ARC International wrote [JURIST op-ed] about gender assignment of intersex-born children in 2015. Belgian-born Model Hanne Gaby Odiele, who recently revealed that she was born intersex [OUT magazine report], has given several interviews in an effort to raise awareness about the “least discussed letter… in the LGBTQI acronym.” Earlier this month, an individual in Colorado made headlines when is was revealed that they (‘they’ being the individual’s preferred pronoun) had been denied a US passport [ABC affiliate report] due to their status as an intersex individual.