Lawmakers in California and New York are proposing bills that would effectively ban surgery on intersex children unless the operations were medically necessary.
Babies born with chromosomal or anatomical features that do not fit neatly into either traditional definition of ‘biological sex’ often undergo operations to alter their bodies within the first few months of their lives.
They are unable to make a decision about their own gender identities at that point in life, so state Senator Brad Holyman is proposing legislation that would require patients to give informed consent before undergoing such procedures.
It mirrors a bill proposed by California state Senator Scott Wiener proposed in April.
Surgeries to modify the bodies of these children risk leaving them sterile, scarred, without sensation, incontinent and psychologically traumatizing, according to a Human Rights Watch report published in 2017.
The proposed bans have gained support from much of the intersex community, but California’s Medical Association and Urological Association oppose the state’s proposed legislature, saying it’s an overreach that interfere’s with parent’s rights to make decisions about their children.
New York’s proposed bill will ‘protect intersex children from medical intervention and allow them to make these decisions for themselves when they are prepared to do so,’ Hoylman told CNN.
A New York state Senator proposed a bill on Friday that would require patients, not parents, to give informed consent to surgeries to alter intersex genitalia, effectively banning the procedures on infants and young children unless they are medically necessary (file)
‘These individuals should have autonomy over their bodies.
‘But under the current legal construct, intersex people, as infants or children, can be forced to undergo irreversible surgeries that can cause physical pain and emotional distress later in their lives.’
Intersex people make up about 1.7 percent of the population – roughly the same proportion as red heads – according to the advocacy group InterAct, which backs state Senator Hoylman’s proposed legislation.
It’s a catch all term for people with wide variety of sex-related traits that, by traditional definitions of male and female, might be described as a combination of the two sexes or not falling into either category.
Often, their genitalia outwardly appear different from these traditional definitions of either binary gender.
Pinpointing the number of these individuals who undergo so-called ‘genital-normalizing’ surgery is trickier than estimating how many intersex are in the overall population, but the Intersex Campaign for Equality estimates it to be around one to to people per every 1,000 live births.
All of these operations come with risks, many of them profound.
Removing gonads ‘can amount to sterilization without the patients consent and require lifelong hormone replacement therapy,’ wrote the Human Rights Watch report authors.
When performed on infants, these surgeries may damage genitalia and nerves that are not fully formed, and the later realization that they’ve been altered from the form they were born in can be deeply traumatizing to intersex children and adults.
As pointed out by a trio of former US Surgeons in a 2017 report, in most cases there is no reason that these surgeries can’t be deferred – if, that is, children or adults decide they want them at all.
United Nations representatives even included ‘involuntary genital normalizing surgery’ performed on children in a report condemning forms of torture performed in other countries.
Yet the US medical community remains divided.
In response to state Senator Wiener’s proposal, a representative of the California Medical Association said: ‘Based on the available data, neither total postponement of surgery to the age of consent nor performing surgery early is free of risk, and clinical evidence for the methods of risk assessment at this stage are still inconclusive to allow for legislating of the practice of medicine between the options,’ according to the Bay Area Reporter.
But some members of the intersex community could not be more clear about their perspective of the surgeries.
‘Genital normalizing surgeries such as clitoral ‘reductions’ and vaginoplasties instill deep shame and sexual trauma in young children when they cannot make a decision for themselves,’ Kimberly Zieselman, an intersexy woman and executive director of InterACT, which backs the New York bill told CNN.
‘That these abuses of intersex youth continue after decades of advocacy proves the intensity of the shame and anti-LGBTQ bias at play.
‘We are so grateful to Senator Hoylman for bringing New York to the right side of history.’
The announcement of the New York proposal comes afterCalifornia’s bill was pushed to the state legislature’s 2020 agenda.