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In a report released last month, social justice advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and interAct found that surgery performed on intersex infants is often unnecessary and causes intersex children permanent physical and emotional harm. Intersex people are not biologically or physically strictly male or female. There are more than 30 potential reasons why this occurs, all having something to do with sex development.
Intersex people are born with genitalia, gonads, sex organs, or chromosomes that differ from what are typical for boys and girls. Parents of intersex babies often feel pressure to subject their children to surgery early on – even if it is not medically necessary. The report highlights the misinformation and inconsistencies within the medical community in addressing intersex births along with the stigma many parents face in raising intersex children.
Intersex children are not rare. Nearly 2 percent of all babies differ from what is typically known as male or female. Some intersex traits are obvious at birth. Some intersex babies are born with atypical external genitalia. For other intersex people, unexpected patterns in the X and Y chromosomes or variations in the gonads – which make the sperm and eggs – are not apparent until the onset of puberty.
In the 1960’s the medical community encouraged surgery on intersex babies, offering that surgery improved their chances at leading “normal” lives. The recent report found that rarely do intersex infants require immediate and permanent surgical intervention. The study also found that most of these surgeries are medically unnecessary and often have devastating physical and emotional consequences for the recipients.
For some intersex people, early surgery to remove their gonads renders them sterile and requires them to take hormone replacement medication for their entire lives. For other intersex people, cosmetic surgery to change the appearance of their genitals can reduce function, sensation, and leave them incontinent. These surgeries are irreversible. For many intersex people, having surgery as babies without their consent leaves them feeling victimized and causes lasting psychological trauma.
As intersex adults voice the trauma and pain of experiencing needless and unwanted surgery, the medical community has begun to change their approach to intersex care. The benefits of surgery on intersex babies have not been proven, yet some doctors still encourage them. As part of the study, three former US surgeons spoke out against cosmetic infant genitoplasty, stating that there is no current evidence that having atypical genitalia leads to psychological problems. The report urges parents of intersex children to reach out to other parents and intersex adults for guidance and support before making any major medical decisions on behalf of their children. Both Human Rights Watch and interACT also call on the U.S. government to ban cosmetic surgery on intersex infants until research is available to show that the benefits of surgery outweigh the possible mental and physical consequences.
We trust our physicians – but sometimes they make decisions or mistakes that cause more harm than good. Bear medical malpractice lawyers at the law firm Rhoades & Morrow hold careless or negligent doctors responsible. If you have been harmed by a doctor’s poor decision, schedule a free consultation with a Bear medical malpractice lawyer at 302-834-8484 to discuss your options. You can also reach Rhoades & Morrow by completing the simple online contact form. We have offices in Bear, Wilmington, and Milford to serve the residents in both upstate and downstate Delaware.