California bill would ban intersex surgery for young kids

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1/15/21

A California lawmaker is trying again to ban some medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children until they are at least 6-years-old, hoping a narrower focus combined with new legislative leadership will be enough to get the first-of-its-kind legislation signed into law. State Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco, introduced the bill late Thursday night. It would ban specific types of surgeries on infants born with intersex characteristics. That refers to people with genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs that don’t fit typical definitions for male or female bodies. These surgeries are irreversible and are often performed on infants, advocates say, even when they are not medically necessary. Advocates have been pushing to delay these types of surgeries until the child is old enough to develop a gender identity. But laws like the one proposed in California have been opposed by doctors, who say the government should not decide when a person should or should not have surgery. There are no state or federal laws regulating intersex surgeries in the U.S., according to InterACT, a national intersex advocacy group. The California Legislature passed a nonbinding resolution in 2018 that urged doctors to defer intersex surgeries on children “until the child is able to participate in decision making.” And the New York City Council is considering requiring a public information and outreach campaign about “medically unnecessary treatments or interventions in infants born with intersex traits.” Previous efforts to ban such surgeries on infants and young children have failed to pass, even in progressive California. But since then, two major children’s hospitals — Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and Boston Children’s Hospital — announced they would stop performing some surgeries on intersex children who were too young to give meaningful consent.

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