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'A baby cannot provide ... consent': Calif. lawmakers denounce infant intersex surgeries

“These surgeries should be performed only with informed consent by the person whose life will be permanently impacted."
Scott Wiener
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco works at the Capitol in Sacramento, California on April 20, 2017.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

The California State Legislature approved a resolution on Tuesday denouncing medically unnecessary surgeries for intersex children.

"Intersex children should be free to choose whether to undergo life-altering surgeries that irreversibly — and sometimes irreparably — cause harm," the resolution states.

SCR 110 was introduced by Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat whose district includes San Francisco, and it was supported by Equality California, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and interACT, an intersex youth advocacy organization.

In a statement provided to NBC News, Wiener said the resolution “recognizes that California’s intersex community is a part of our state’s diversity and should be embraced.”

“These surgeries should be performed only with informed consent by the person whose life will be permanently impacted,” Wiener stated. “A baby cannot provide that consent.”

“These surgeries can have significant negative impacts on people’s lives, particularly if the gender chosen by the physician and parents is different from the child’s ultimate gender identity,” Wiener continued.

Human Rights Watch, an international human-rights organization, applauded the legislature's resolution, saying it "signals the state's respect for people born with variations in their sex characteristics.

“California’s leadership on the protection of intersex children’s rights is not only an expression of solidarity and dignity, but a reminder that doctors take an oath do no harm,” Kyle Knight, a Human Rights Watch researcher and author of two reports on intersex issues, said in a statement sent to NBC News. “Medical professional associations should draw a hard line saying that unless surgery is medically necessary, intersex children have the right to grow up and participate in the decision to undergo surgical procedures.”

While SCR 110 adds to growing calls to end a practice that subjects infants to cosmetic genital surgery, it is not a change of statute and does not ban the practice.


"Intersex," according to the Intersex Society of North America, is a "general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male."

"For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside," the organization explains on its website. "Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types."

Since "intersex" is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of conditions, there are wide-ranging estimates as to how many people are born intersex. A highly cited 2000 report published in the American Journal of Human Biology found as many as 2 percent of live births may deviate "from the ideal male or female." However, the report, which surveyed medical literature from 1955 to 1998, found the frequency of individuals receiving "corrective" genital survey was probably between 0.1 and 0.2 percent of live births.

“For many decades, the standard of care for intersex newborns included surgical procedures to make them look as typically female or typically male as possible,” Dr. Susan Stred, a pediatric endocrinologist, said in a video posted by Human Rights Watch. Currently, few doctors openly perform these surgeries, according to Knight, but he said they do still occur.

Hans Lindahl, an intersex activist and the communications director at interACT, acknowledged that the California resolution has "no enforcement power yet," but nonetheless said it sends an important message.

"Historically, intersex people as a demographic have not been consulted about our own health care," she said. "This resolution is a message to the medical community: Intersex people are here, we deserve non-discriminatory care, and we deserve to make our own decisions about our own bodies, just like everyone else."