During 2008, the Australian Human Rights Commission undertook a project on human rights and sex and gender diversity. Following consultations with the sex and gender diverse community, the Commission focused its work for 2008-09 on a project examining the legal recognition of sex on documents and government records. However, many other human rights issues were raised with the Commission during this consultation. One of the issues identified as a priority human rights issue by people who identify as intersex was surgical intervention on intersex infants. As a result, the Commission undertook to raise greater awareness of the human rights implications of this issue.Unfortunately, it makes no recommendations, merely outlining the issues, which can be summarised as follows:
The Commission has produced a paper on intersex infant surgery and human rights, which can be found on the Commission website.
Some of the benefits in performing gender-related surgery on intersex infants may include:In some cases, it's not just a matter of "reducing the risks", some degree of surgery is required to ensure urinary and excretary functionality. And later in life, as great a degree of sexual functionality as can be attained too.
Some of the risks in performing gender-related surgery on infants who are intersex may include:
- reducing medical risks, such as the greater risk of cancer for some medical conditions, through removal of gonads, or reducing risk of recurrent urinary tract infection
- reducing the risk that the infant will be rejected by parents, discriminated against or ostracised by peers and broader society
- acceptance of the sex and gender assigned at birth by most people who are intersex.
- the child does not have an opportunity to express their gender identity
- the child may experience psychological damage due to an incorrect imposition of gender
- with certain conditions, infertility being certain, as opposed to probable
- possible complications from surgery, such as haemorrhage.
What really worries me though are the disbenefits of surgery which is not necessary. That babies should be castrated and sterilised simply to make society and their parents more comfortable is to me, obscene. Rather than mutilating infants, we should be changing society, so that it becomes more educated, and more accepting.
Some parents will reject their child regardless: but that happens in a minority of cases anyway, and we already have systems (poor ones, admittedly) for dealing with that.
There should be a positive recommendation, by the Australian Medical Association and Pediatricians, that surgery to alter the physical sex of infants should be kept to the minimum necessary for pain relief and urino-genital functionality, until the child reaches an age where they can tell us what sex they are, what they want to look like, and how much or how little surgery they require. Then that surgery (if any) should be provided, no questions asked.
If that makes some people uncomfortable - then they should be told to deal with it. Just as they deal with others who may make them feel uncomfortable - people with different skin colours, or who "talk with a funny accent", or who eat strange foods, or who worship different Deities.
It's not the kids' anomalous bodies that are the problem: it's the bigotry and ignorance of others.