Parents Sue After Doctors Decide Their Child Is a Girl

Pam and Mark Crawford say intersex surgeries raise important issue of consent
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2015 8:59 AM CDT
Updated Aug 18, 2015 3:09 PM CDT
Parents Sue After Doctors Decide Their Child Is a Girl
About 1 in 2,000 babies born in the US are considered intersex.   (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Pam and Mark Crawford of Greenville, SC, adopted MC when he was just 20 months old and then considered female. Born with "true hermaphroditism" or both male and female anatomy—including a penis, vagina, testicle, and ovarian tissue—doctors had performed surgery to remove MC's male anatomy two months before the Crawfords took him home. The surgery wasn't so unusual. An estimated one in 2,000 babies born in the US are considered "intersex," somewhere between male and female, and thousands of surgeries designed to give them either male or female anatomy are performed each year. But in the case of MC, the surgery occurred before the Crawfords could prevent it. Now 10, MC identifies as male and his parents are waging what Buzzfeed calls "a landmark lawsuit against the hospitals and state guardians who decided to put their son through sex-assignment surgery."

Doctors say performing such surgeries early allows patients to carry on more normal lives. "Forcing children to be raised with ambiguous genitalia is really tough—that's almost unethical," one says. But Pam Crawford, who notes the couple would have sued even if MC identified as female, says "nobody had the right" to choose her son's gender and worries what his life will be like when he reaches puberty and perhaps gets a period or breasts. "We just hate that there were choices made that could have a significant impact on his being able to be a man. We just don't want people to have to go through what he's going to face." Patients and parents argue intersex surgeries can cause physical and psychological harm; some say doctors weigh a patient's eventual ability to have heterosexual sex above their own health, per Law Street. The Crawfords' lawsuit, however, will focus exclusively on informed consent. The trial is set for November. (Click for more on the case.)

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