Amicus Brief Argues Against Cosmetic Genital Surgery on Intersex Infants Because of Long-Term Harms
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New York, April 9, 2014—The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit should protect the right of an intersex child to recover damages from doctors who authorized and performed irreversible and unnecessary cosmetic genital surgery on him during infancy, the Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic argues in an amicus brief filed with the court today.
The clinic’s brief, filed on behalf of the AIS-DSD Support Group, an organization that serves intersex individuals and their families, supports the claims of M.C., an intersex child born with ambiguous genitalia. While in foster care in South Carolina—with authorization from social workers—M.C. was subjected to surgery that removed healthy genital tissue and “assigned” M.C. to be anatomically female. Now 8-years-old, M.C. has developed a male gender and clearly identifies as a boy. The case is M.C. v. James Amrheim, et al.
“The state should not have made the decision to subject M.C. to this life-altering surgery,” said clinic student Rebecca Ramaswamy ’15, who worked on the brief. “M.C. was forced to undergo this procedure purely for cosmetic purposes. Medical experts have long recognized the trauma this irreversible surgery causes and the need for surgeons to wait so that an intersex person can decide whether and to what extent to undergo surgery to change their genitals’ appearance.”
Olena Ripnick-O’Farrell ’14, who also worked on the brief along with Chance Goldberg ’15 and Asmita Singh ’14, agreed.
“International bodies have long condemned the use of surgery to alter the appearance of intersex infants,” Ripnick-O’Farrell said. “Performing cosmetic genital surgery on infants has been recognized as a human rights violation by the United Nations and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, among others. This surgery causes long-term harms and severely limits the medical options intersex children have after their gender identity has manifested.”
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the United States and charges that social workers and doctors, who authorized and performed the surgery while M.C. was in South Carolina’s custody, violated M.C’s constitutional rights to reproduction, bodily integrity, privacy, and procedural due process.
“The central problem with cosmetic genital surgery on an intersex infant is that no one, including the doctors, knows how the child’s gender identity will emerge,” said Columbia Law School Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg, who directs the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and is the brief’s primary author. “But there are other serious problems too—these irreversible surgeries can cause infertility, genital scarring, sexual dysfunction, and depression.”
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