California Denounces Unnecessary Surgery on Intersex Children

California Senator Scott Wiener

The California State Legislature has officially condemned — although not banned — the practice of performing surgeries to change the reproductive anatomy of intersex children, unless the child’s physical health is at risk.

“This resolution recognizes that California’s intersex community is a part of our state’s diversity and should be embraced,” said its author, State Sen. Scott Wiener, in a press release. “Physicians should not immediately seek to ‘correct’ how people are born through irreversible surgeries, unless they are medically necessary. These surgeries can have significant negative impacts on people’s lives, particularly if the gender chosen by the physician and parents is different from the child’s ultimate gender identity. I am proud that the California Legislature understands that intersex people deserve the right to identify with the gender of their choosing, and not have that decision be made for them before they are able to consent.”  

The San Francisco–based legislator’s resolution, approved Tuesday, notes that “being born intersex is not a flaw or shortcoming,” but surgeries on intersex people “are often performed before a child can even speak or stand, meaning the intersex individual is excluded from the decision whether to undergo these irreversible procedures.”

The resolution doesn’t have the force of law but is intended to send a message to physicians, and California is the first state to take such a stand. The measure is not aimed at surgery for anomalies that threaten a child’s health, but its supporters point out that surgery or hormone treatment for children born intersex is often not medically necessary. “We look forward to bringing the message of [the resolution to the medical community to ensure ethical, compassionate care for this vulnerable, vibrant population,” said Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of interACT,  an organization that advocates for the rights of intersex children and supported the measure, in the press release.

“California’s leadership on the protection of intersex children’s rights is not only an expression of solidarity and dignity, but a reminder that doctors take an oath do no harm,” Kyle Knight, a Human Rights Watch researcher who has written about intersex issues, said in a statement to NBC News. “Medical professional associations should draw a hard line saying that unless surgery is medically necessary, intersex children have the right to grow up and participate in the decision to undergo surgical procedures.”

The measure, Senate Continuing Resolution 110, was also supported by Equality California, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, the Children’s Advocacy Institute, the Trevor Project, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other groups.

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