Patient Rights

Parents Sue Doctors For Performing Early Gender Surgery On Intersex Son

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit may send a signal to doctors intent on using their scalpel to “correct” children who are intersex. The suit, filed by a couple in South Carolina on behalf of their eight-year-old son, alleges that the South Carolina Department of Social Services, Greenville Hospital System and Medical University of South Carolina engaged in medical malpractice when doctors there decided that a child with ambiguous genitalia was, in fact, a girl. (None of the defendants has responded to the suit.)

“We feel very strongly that these decisions to permanently alter somebody’s genitalia and their reproductive ability for no medical reason whatsoever is an abhorrent practice and can’t be continued,” Pam Crawford the mother of the child, told Reuters. “It is too late for our son. The damage has been done to him.”

Crawford’s son was a sixteen-month old in the foster care system when doctors chose to perform surgery. The lawsuit maintains that the decision was premature, since it wasn’t clear which gender identity the child (identified only by initials) would embrace. “The doctors knew that sex assignment surgeries on infants with conditions like M.C.’s poses a significant risk of imposing a gender that is ultimately rejected by the patient,” the lawsuit says.” The child now considers himself a boy.

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  • yaoming

    Sad (and strange).

  • Kieran

    Sounds like a horrific case of child abuse at the hands of some deranged doctor.

  • Dionte

    Poor kid.

  • nature boy

    Sadly the only thing unique about this story is that the current parents apparently did not give approval for the surgery but are enlightened enough to recognize the tragedy of it. This surgery happens much more often than in reported…. society’s effort to make intersex people fit into the either/or male/female dichotomy that is easier for ignorant people to understand. The reality is that some people are born with indeterminate gender and they should be taught to love themselves as they were created and allowed to make their own choices regarding surgery when they are adults. In fact… these people should be celebrated and cherished for their uniqueness.

  • jim2008

    Why was this poor kid in foster care? Where the kids parents when this decision was being made? While the state probably made a bad call, it did the best it could under the circumstances. Pity.

  • nature boy

    Sorry Jim, I strongly disagree that “the state … did the best it could under the circumstances.” Removing a child’s functioning testicles, thereby sterilizing them, and mutilating their genitals without their consent just because they don’t look like the other people in the room, when there is no urgent life-or-death health issue, is not OK.

  • Polaro

    The child was in foster care. The parent’s screwed up and lost their right to make decisions for their child at that point. Someone thought it best to do the surgery. I’m sure they had their reasons. The lawsuit is sad, but also misguided.

  • nature boy

    No Polaro, I disagree. People in Africa who do female genital mutilation “have their reasons” also… that doesn’t make it right. This will keep happening to more children in foster care unless someone steps up and gets people’s attention, like these parents are doing. Yes, the lawsuit is sad… but it is the right thing to do. The child having his genitalia mutilated is what was “misguided.”

  • Merv

    Butchers. The idea that sexual identity can be changed simply by modifying the genitals was debunked years ago.

  • zrocqs

    The concept “ambiguous” should be rejected in matters regarding gender and sex, and replaced with “versatile” or something synonymous. Unwanted gender assignment surgery is as brutal as lobotomy.

  • sweetbrandigirl2004

    While I think is sad and disappointing that the Dr’s and the Dept of Social Services felt that this issue needed immediate attention, but the fact that this child was under the care of the Dept of Social Services at the time, may very well circumvent the parents parental rights, because when children are placed in foster care parents lose custody and have NO say in what happens to their children. The fact that this surgery took place during this time most likely means they don’t have a leg to stand on.

    I known the story said the child who now identifies as a boy, I wonder how much of that was influenced by the parents who now have the child back in their custody ? Have they dressed him as boy pushed him to be a boy raised him to be a boy ? It’s always whats NOT said in the story that matters the most as thats usual what lies at teh heart of the matter.

  • viveutvivas

    @sweetbrandigirl, it is not about the rights of the parents, but about the rights of the child, so I don’t see how whoever had custody at the time figures into it. Who else would you consider qualified to sue for the child? is there a statute of limitations that forgives crimes against a child every time custody changes?

  • alterego1980

    I’m glad Pam Crawford is intelligent enough to recognize the travesty of what the doctor did. They made a choice (wrongly) for a child when the choice should have been their own. However, did the Crawford’s have custody of the boy when the surgery happened? Maybe they could sue the State on the boy’s behalf but otherwise, I don’t know that they could sue. Instead, they should be working on changing laws to ensure that doctors don’t take these matters into their own hands. Especially when they carry such old, rigid and unfair preconceived notions about gender.

  • multitasker

    Before discounting this subject as irrelevant or too rare to bother to care, please consider that intersex conditions are many times more common than nearly everyone realizes.

    Estimates vary according to researches partly because of what conditions they include in their studies. One authoritative estimate is 1.7%. How many people in your high school graduating class would that be? Think about it.

    I have to disagree with the folks here who appear to believe that this case is frivolous. An intersex child’s biological sex may be ambiguous while quite young, yet the child’s body may develop at puberty to have predominantly male or female characteristics. It is also possible that they may develop adult characteristics of both sexes. There are so many different conditions that, at least at this time, we have not the tools to be certain at what point on the sex spectrum a child will ultimately be. Attempting to force a child to appear one sex or the other may ultimately lead to disaster(s) in that as an adult they may have no glans sensation or have lost the function of reproduction-capable, viable gonads.

    Further, gender is not exclusively developed biologically, it is a state of mind. That child will eventually become an adult (hopefully) and may ultimately identify as one gender or the other and should have the choice to select what to do with their own body according to their own wishes. There are a few conditions that warrant diligent monitoring, of course, e.g. nonfunctional gonads having a greater chance to become cancerous; but that really does not justify intentional, involuntary (for the child) genital mutilation.

    As for this particular case, it should be noted that the parents suing are not the biological parents who lost custody. Neither the child nor the current parents should be blamed for their angst. They should be congratulated for forcing the issue. Even though their son will never have back his intact genitalia, the court case may have the intended effect of reducing the frequency of these mutilation crimes.

  • tdx3fan

    Not enough information to gather rather or not these are the biological or adoptive parents. That being said, it has nothing to do with parental rights. The suit will most likely argue that the rights of the child were violated because he received life altering surgery that was unnecessary.

  • tdx3fan

    As a side note, it was intersex individuals that got me through my childhood. When all my family members were trying to heap this “god does not make mistakes”, “you were born a boy so you are a boy,” and “boys are not attracted to other boys” crap on me… it was my knowledge that intersex individuals existed that allowed me to easily blow all that crap off, because this is proof that the human body is formed in interesting ways.

  • sweetbrandigirl2004

    @viveutvivas: While I understand your passion for this issue, the fact that the surgery took place while the Dept of Social Service had custody means they were within they’re legal rights to make decision for the child. They operate on a whats best for the child SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) The parents can’t sue after the fact, well they can sue they won’t win.

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