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Topics In the News
SPLC Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Intersexual Child Subjected to Surgery
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/15/13
Last updated on: 05/15/13
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Pam Crawford, the child's adoptive mother, hopes to prevent other children from being forced to endure unwanted sex assignment surgery.

On May 14, 2013, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced it had filed a groundbreaking lawsuit on behalf of an intersexual child who was subjected to unnecessary and premature surgery by the state of South Carolina. The lawsuit charges that the state of South Carolina violated the child's constitutional rights while in foster care, potentially affecting both reproductive and sexual function.

When the child, known as M.C., was born eight years ago, doctors determined that M.C. had an intersex condition and was not easily identifiable as a male or female. When M.C. was 16 months old and in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, officials decided the child would undergo surgery to make M.C. a girl. There was no medical reason to perform this surgery, which robbed M.C. not only of healthy genital tissue but also of the opportunity to decide what should happen to his own body.

Now 8 years old, M.C. identifies as a boy--wearing boy clothes and hairstyles--despite an irreversible surgery that has left him with female genitalia. He has announced to his school and his religious community that he has always been a boy.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center website, "The lawsuit describes how the defendants violated M.C.'s substantive and procedural due process rights, outlined in the 14th Amendment, by subjecting M.C. to the unnecessary surgery 'without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.'s best interest.'"

It also charges that the doctors committed medical malpractice by failing to obtain adequate informed consent before proceeding. The defendants told M.C.'s guardians to allow the sex assignment surgery but did not provide information regarding the surgery's catastrophic risks, including sterilization and greatly reduced or wholly eliminated sexual function. Most important, they did not tell them that the procedure was medically unnecessary."

"This case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice," said Alesdair H. Ittelson, SPLC staff attorney. "No one advocated for M.C.'s right to be free from unnecessary medical intervention at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is high time all involved answer for the needless injury they inflicted on M.C."

Since the 1950s, doctors have performed this type of sex assignment surgery on infants with intersex conditions even when the child's ultimate gender remains unknown. In M.C.'s condition, there was no way to tell whether the child would ultimately identify as a boy or a girl. Instead, the doctors decided to assign M.C.'s gender as female and change his body to fit their stereotype of how a girl should look.

"By performing this needless surgery, the state and the doctors told M.C. that he was not acceptable or lovable the way he was born," said Pam Crawford, M.C.'s adoptive mother. "They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was--not because he needed any surgery. M.C. is a charming, enchanting and resilient kid. We will not stop until we get justice for our son."

Pam and Mark Crawford, M.C.'s adoptive parents, hope to prevent other children with intersex condition from being forced to endure unwanted sex assignment surgery.

Sean Saifa Wall, an adult with an intersex condition, was raised as a female but now lives his life as a man. He remembers the pressure doctors put on his mother to consent to vaginal construction surgery during puberty. However, Wall's mother refused, sparing him irreparable injury.

"Infants and children should be loved and accepted in the bodies they were born in," Wall said. "I speak for the many who cannot speak, including those living with the shame, isolation and secrecy that surround people with intersex conditions. I say to them, you are not alone and it's time for us to be proud of these bodies we inhabit."

The lawsuit, M.C. v. Medical University of South Carolina, was filed in County of Richland Court of Common Pleas. Its companion lawsuit, M.C. v. Aaronson was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Defendants include the South Carolina Department of Social Services, Greenville Hospital System, Medical University of South Carolina, and individual employees.

Activist Cheryl Chase has given a voice to the intersexed and has led efforts to educate both medical professionals and parents of intersexed children so that medically unnecessary surgeries may be avoided and that intersexed people may have happier and healthier lives.

In 1993, Chase founded the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) to advocate on behalf of the intersexed. The organization calls for lifelong care for the physical, mental health, and social needs of the intersexed patient, who, the organization stresses, is the child, not the parents.

While the organization acknowledges that gender assignment of an infant is both a legal and a social necessity, and parents should make the decision using their best judgment and taking into account the outcomes of patients with a similar presentation, it insists that surgery should not be performed on children. The choice of what, if any, surgery to have should be left to the patient when he or she is of an age and has sufficient accurate information to decide what is in his or her own best interests.

In the video below, television station WSFA reports on the SPLC lawsuit.

WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.
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