Children born with sexual characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female sometimes undergo surgery to rearrange their anatomy to better fit their sex.
Now left-leaning groups Human Rights Watch and InterACT are denouncing the procedure and urging Congress to ban it.
The condition is typically called intersexuality, and it affects around 1 in 2,000 babies. Doctors at times recommend surgical intervention to make the body appear more in line with one gender, according to the Human Right Watch.
Experts have defined a variety of intersex cases, such as a person born appearing to be female on the outside may have mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types.
Human Rights Watch condemned the surgeries, stating that the results are “often catastrophic” and “can inflict irreversible physical and psychological harm.”
These surgeries may include clitoral reduction surgeries, which are procedures that reduce the size of the clitoris for cosmetic reasons, or gonadectomies, which removes the gonads.
Some children may not grow up to identify as the sex their surgery assigned them to, the groups argue. Depending on the condition, this risk can be as high as 40 percent, which means that many children may face traumatic experiences.
In July 2017, three former US surgeons general wrote that they believed “there is insufficient evidence that growing up with atypical genitalia leads to psychosocial distress,” and “while there is little evidence that cosmetic infant genitoplasty is necessary to reduce psychological damage, evidence does show that the surgery itself can cause severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress.”
HRW and InterACT then called on the U.S. government to end these surgeries where the children are too young to give consent to this life-altering change.
“The US government and medical bodies should put an end to all surgical procedures that seek to alter the gonads, genitals, or internal sex organs of children with atypical sex characteristics too young to participate in the decision, when those procedures both carry a meaningful risk of harm and can be safely deferred,” Human Rights Watch and InterACT said.