California Lawmakers May Ban Surgery on Intersex Children

When intersex children are born, their parents are often encouraged to consent to medically unnecessary surgery on their behalf, a practice that has been widely accepted for decades despite the voices of intersex activists.

Some intersex babies are subjected to multiple surgeries to “correct” their appearance when they clearly lack the capacity for consent. This can lead to future trauma and distress. And because these procedures are typically irreversible, there’s no going back. Some of them can cause scarring, sexual dysfunction and incontinence, among other issues. And they’re sometimes done for purely cosmetic reasons.

But the widespread assumption that such procedures are welcome, expected and even necessary is finally starting to change, thanks to the intersex activists. In summer 2018, California legislators condemned medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, and now they’re looking at legislation that would significantly curtail such procedures. If it passes, it would be the first of its kind in the nation, setting a model for other states to follow.

Specifically, the law would ban “performing any treatment or intervention on the sex characteristics of an intersex minor if the treatment or intervention may be deferred until the intersex minor can provide informed consent.” There’s an exception for procedures deemed “medically necessary,” though it should be viewed with caution. Sometimes surgery absolutely can’t wait — for example, when a baby has difficulty urinating because of an obstruction in their urinary tract. But “medically necessary” could be a slippery slope for procedures that might not actually fall under the category.

A statewide medical association has come out in opposition of the legislation, saying it may make it more difficult to treat infants who really do need surgery because of emergent health issues. Although the California Medical Association plays a big role in policy and advocacy for improvements in patient care, it’s on the wrong side of history on this one — with intersex advocates stressing that #DelayIsOkay and supporting the right to wait to make such weighty medical decisions.

When intersex people reach an age where they can make their own medical decisions on the basis of medically accurate information about their bodies and the options available, they can decide whether they want surgery, hormones or other therapies. And they can dictate the nature and pace of these therapies. Some may be happy and confident in their bodies and not interested in reconstructive surgery, while others may be interested in discussing their options. But in both cases, it’s critical that they be able to make decisions for themselves — not have those decisions made when they’re too young to have a say.

The next step for the legislation is committee hearings in April. California residents should contact their lawmakers to let them know they support the legislation and would like to see the state move the hearings forward to a floor vote. It may be worth noting that there’s widespread international support for putting a stop to such procedures — including from the United Nations, which considers them torture.

Take Action

Tell California lawmakers you want them to make history by becoming the first legislature to end the use of medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children!

And when it comes to issues you care about, consider supporting other Care2 members with their petitions or starting your own to draw attention to a social issue in need of change, action or celebration.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2′s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.


Photo credit: Milkos/Getty Images


Melisa B
Melisa B20 hours ago


silja salonen
silja salonenyesterday

may stop ... really it should be stopped.!!
for heaven sake I just read the article where women who were having gynecological procedures done were being filmed without their knowledge.. this in California. wild one hand wishes to do good while the other is willing to and does the opposite.

Amparo Fabiana Chepote

Unnecessary, let them decide later when they learn it and make their own conscience.

Joan E
Joan E7 days ago

Edward V, I had a friend who was a victim of that theory. My friend was born with 2 sets of genitalia and the doctor removed the male ones. She lives as a woman, but she is taller, hairier and more sturdily built that most women, and she is attracted to women, not men. If the surgeon had had more patience to wait and see how my friend was actually oriented, she would likely be living now as a man, which seems to better match her natural inclinations.

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan H8 days ago


Janis K
Janis K11 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Pam Bruce
Pam B12 days ago


Chrissie R
Chrissie R13 days ago

Petition signed previously. Thank you for posting!

Edward Vaughn
Edward Vaughn13 days ago

There are only TWO GENDERS. You are the adults. Pick one.

Debbi W
Debbi W13 days ago

Petition previously signed. I hope it passes. So many times that surgery is a mistake and must be corrected years later.

Karen and Ed brought up circumcision. That is done for health reasons, if not religious reasons.