ACT drafts intersex law preventing medical procedures without consent

ACT drafts intersex law preventing medical procedures without consent

The ACT Government revealed landmark legislation preventing medical interventions on intersex people without informed consent.

The new laws would establish a new process for intersex people and their families seeking medical treatment.

The Variations in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2022 is currently in its consultation phase.

Those born intersex given power to make their own decision

intersex flags: intersex surgeryIt is estimated 1.7% of the population are born Intersex.

Intersex is a term for people who are born with genetic, hormonal or physical sex characteristics which are not typical of the medical norms for the male sex, or of the female sex.

For example, some intersex people are born with both ovarian and testicular tissue. Others can have external genitalia which are inconsistent with internal sex organs.

While some intersex people are identified at birth, some are not identified until puberty.

If a child is born intersex, it’s common to do surgery on the baby’s genitals to make them appear to fit into either male or female categories.

Informed consent for intersex surgery medical procedures

The legislation allows medical treatment:

  1. when the person is seeking a procedure for themselves;
  2. in health emergencies; or
  3. if the treatment is easily reversible or does not affect sex characteristics.

For children without the capacity to consent for necessary treatment, an independent expert panel will oversee medical treatment plans.

Gender ‘normalising’ surgeries criticised

“Gender normalising” surgeries have been performed on intersex babies and children since at least the 1950s. Often, these surgeries happen in secret, and sometimes without ever telling the children.

In the following decades, some people who underwent these surgeries as children began to speak out against them as human rights violations.

Some said they had been assigned the wrong gender, while others endured severe complications, including sexual dysfunction and infertility.

Mother glad she refused surgery

When Kristina Turner learnt that her baby was intersex, doctors offered cosmetic surgery to make her child ‘appear more clearly female’.

In 2018, Kristina was interviewed by NBC News about her intersex child, Ori.

Ori was born with typically female genitalia, however there was unusual swelling in the area.

They were later identified to have both XX and XY chromosomes, and genitalia that was ambiguous.

Ori was perfectly healthy, but Kristina said surgeons pressured her to consent to surgery to make Ori look more female. Kristina refused, and is thankful of her decision. These days, Ori presents as non-binary, dressing and taking interest in things that are both typically masculine and feminine.

Human Rights Commission criticises intersex surgery on children

The Human Rights Commission previously recommended new legislative protections for children born with intersex traits.

The commission heard about people undergoing surgeries to:

  • reduce the size of the clitoris [known as clitoridectomy or clitorectomy];
  • other surgeries to modify female genitalia such as reducing the size or modifying the shape of the labia minora [labiaplasty];
  • surgery on external female genitals, generally reducing the size or addressing the asymmetry of the labia minora [vulvoplasty], and
  • surgery on an infant born with smaller than usual male genitalia [micropenis] to create the appearance of a female child by the construction of a vagina [vaginoplasty].

The report recommends new legislation so that medical interventions take place only with the prior, informed, personal consent of the person concerned, except in the case where the treatment is a medical necessity.

Whenever a medical intervention is proposed for a person under the age of 18, the medical treatment team should seek authorisation from an independent panel, the commission recommended.

Protecting the rights of people with variations in sex characteristics in medical settings

You can have your say on the bill here: Have Your Say

Civil Solicitor | Website | + posts

Sarah is a civil solicitor who primarily practices in defamation, intentional torts against police, privacy and harassment.

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