Human Rights Watch

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US: Doctors Need Intersex Care Standards

Professional Groups Should Stand Against Unnecessary Surgery

Thursday 26 October 2017


(New York, October 26, 2017) – Medical professional associations should enact standards of care for intersex children that rule out medically unnecessary surgery before patients are old enough to consent, Human Rights Watch and interACT said in a report released today. After decades of controversy in the medical community over the procedures, the lack of centralized care standards allows doctors to continue operating on children's gonads, internal sex organs, and genitals when they are too young to participate in the decision, even though such surgery is dangerous and could be safely deferred.

The 41-page report, "A Changing Paradigm: US Medical Provider Discomfort with Intersex Care Practices," examines the controversy over the operations inside the medical community and the pressure on parents to opt for surgery.

Once called "hermaphrodites" – a term now considered pejorative and outdated, intersex people are not rare, but their needs are widely misunderstood. Based on a medical theory popularized in the 1960s, doctors perform surgery on intersex children – often in infancy – with the stated aim of making it easier for them to grow up "normal." The results are often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and there are rarely urgent health considerations requiring immediate, irreversible intervention.

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