The state of South Carolina is facing a federal lawsuit for subjecting a child born with ambiguous genitalia to female sex-assignment surgery that he didn’t need and now is contrary to his male gender identity.
The case is brought by a South Carolina couple Mark and Pam Crawford on behalf of their adopted son M.C..
M.C. was born with a condition that meant that, even though he was originally classed as male, doctors later determined he had both male and female sex organs. Moreover, his male genitalia did not match the proscribed size for what is classed “normal.”
When M.C. was 16 months old and in state care, South Carolina Department of Social Services, alongside doctors and department officials, decided that on this basis, M.C. should undergo sex-assignment surgery.
They opted in 2006 to fashion M.C. female genitalia because, depending on the case, female genitalia can be easier to craft.
However, South Carolina officials did this despite the fact that there was no medical reason or need to perform the surgery — simply, they wanted to correct M.C.’s so-called condition.
Apparently, they never considered how M.C. might define his gender or how it would emerge in later life.
Now that M.C. is 8 years old, however, his adoptive parents say he self-identifies as male despite the surgery that robbed him of his male genitalia and left him sex-assigned female. This is also despite M.C.’s adoptive parents initially raising him as female.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is representing M.C.’s adoptive parents in a federal lawsuit that is designed to challenge this practice.
Here is a video by the SPLC outlining the case in more detail:
The suit filed by the SPLC charges that the state of South Carolina violated M.C.’s constitutional rights by subjecting him to an unnecessary medical procedure that may have effectively sterilized him.
This places the lawsuit alongside other historic cases brought by the SPLC, including cases where welfare recipients, many young African-American women, were sterilized against their will between 1938 to 1963.
The suit claims South Carolina officials violated the 14th Amendment by subjecting M.C. to an unnecessary procedure without first giving adequate notice or assessing what might be in M.C.’s best interests.
The suit further charges that this adds up to malpractice because the state failed to obtain adequate informed consent.
“This case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice,” Alesdair H. Ittelson, SPLC staff attorney, is quoted as saying. “No one advocated for M.C.’s right to be free from unnecessary medical intervention at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is high time all involved answer for the needless injury they inflicted on M.C.”
Unfortunately, M.C.’s case is not an isolated one. The practice of deciding and enforcing the sex of children before they themselves can gender identify has a long history in the United States and, indeed, across the globe.
Since the 1950s, various states in the U.S. have allowed surgeons to carry out gender assignment surgeries on intersex children or kids with ambiguous genitalia, usually on the assumption that this will benefit them in the long term.
The mistake in this is obvious: a child’s gender is not controlled or defined by the appearance of their sex organs but rather a complex interplay of hereditary characteristics, brain chemistry and the physiology of the brain.
An accurate measure on the number of intersex children born in the USA every year is hard to determine simply because there are many different conditions that may fall within that bracket, but estimates by the Intersex Society of North America put the figure at 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 2,000 births and up.
Based on years of consultation with intersex patients, medical professionals suggest the best course of action is to raise a child as the gender that medical evidence would support as being a likely life-long gender and treat them accordingly, all the time sensitive to how they are comfortable presenting and expressing themselves to see if a change is needed.
Good informed consent practice also recommends postponing surgery until children are able to self-identify and, ideally, can make their own decisions about their bodies.
By embarking on this historic legal suit, the Crawford family says it hopes to shine a spotlight on sex-assignment practice and prevent other children with intersex conditions or ambiguous genitalia being harmed by unwanted and medically unwarranted sex-assignment surgery.
Image credit: Thinkstock.