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In a stunning victory for intersex advocates, three former United States Surgeon Generals published a paper yesterday, titled “Re-Thinking Genital Surgeries on Intersex Infants,” which calls for a moratorium on performing medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children! The paper’s authors, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Dr. David Satcher, and Dr. Richard Carmona, the 15th, 16th and 17th Surgeon Generals of the United States, respectively, conclude that:
“…cosmetic infant genitoplasty is not justified absent a need to ensure physical functioning, and we hope that professionals and parents who face this difficult decision will heed the growing consensus that the practice should stop.”
The doctors recommend an end to the practice based on three rationales:
1. insufficient evidence that growing up with atypical genitalia leads to psychosocial distress;
2. evidence that the surgery itself can cause severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress; and,
3. the fact that the surgeries violate an individual’s right to personal autonomy over their own future.
This is an important win not just nationally but globally, as these harmful practices were pioneered in the United States, and U.S. medical institutions have been slow to question them and instrumental in exporting them throughout the world. Intersex activists across the globe have been calling for an end to medically unnecessary intersex infant surgeries (also known as Intersex Genital Mutilation, or IGM) for over two decades—first by only a handful and today in droves. In 2004, our parent organization, OII, the Organization Intersex International, became the first international intersex organization and began growing an international community. Today, the international intersex movement is thriving and has been working to educate human rights bodies such as the UN about OII’s mission to attain human rights for intersex infants, children, and adults, particularly the right to bodily integrity and self-determination.
Today, we celebrate hearing these rights echoed and supported in the words of the former U.S. Surgeon Generals!
“Clitoral reductions and the removal of healthy gonads clearly infringe on the child’s right to physical integrity, preservation of sexual and gender identity, and procreative freedom.”
— Dr. Jocelyn Elders, Dr. Dr. David Satcher, and Dr. Richard Carmona, 15th, 16th and 17th Surgeon Generals of the United States
We also thank the many intersex activists around the world–many of whom have been working for decades on these changes, often unpaid and recognized–for their hard work and dedication to making this shift a reality. We’ve all been taking the steps necessary to usher in changes in how intersex people are viewed and treated, and today we can celebrate this huge one together!