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A new report from Human Rights Watch reveals traumas of unnecessary surgeries on intersex children

A new report from Human Rights Watch reveals traumas of unnecessary surgeries on intersex children

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Long before they are able to give their consent, intersex children are undergoing traumatic and unnecessary medical surgeries. This information comes from a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and interACT.

The 160-page report, ‘”I Want to Be Like Nature Made Me”: Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on Intersex Children in the US,’ was released today. It provides extensive details on the surgeries themselves, their controversies, pressures put on parents, and more. The report is based on in-depth interviews with doctors, intersex adults and children, and parents of intersex people.

Intersex members of society are people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that fall outside of societal norms. They are also some of the most misunderstood of the LGBTI community. According to the report’s statistics, as many as 1.7 percent of children are born as intersex. Their parents are pressured into letting them undergo surgery to have a ‘normal’ life. But what is normal?

No proven benefits of surgeries

As Kyle Knight, researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report explains: ‘The pressure to fit in and live a ‘normal’ life is real, but there is no evidence that surgery delivers on the promise of making that easier, and ample evidence that it risks causing irreversible lifelong harm.’

Three former US surgeons general agreed with Knight. ‘There is insufficient evidence that growing up with atypical genitalia leads to psychosocial distress,’ they wrote. ‘Evidence does show that the surgery itself can cause severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress.’

Rather, despite decades of controversy surrounding the various operations, they’re still being recommended.

What is the solution?

A doctor told HRW, ‘We’re listening to the adult patients who are telling us that they feel they were mistreated and mutilated and that’s a very powerful thing.’

To conclude the report, HRW and interACT suggest: ‘The US government and medical bodies should put an end to 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.’

Parents of an 8-year-old born with atypical genitals said: ‘The doctors told us it was important to have the surgery right away because it would be traumatic for our child to grow up looking different. What’s more traumatic? This sort of operation or growing up a little different?’

You can read the full report here.