Bill Introduced in California to Limit Intersex Surgery

California may become the first state to limit intersex surgery with a new bill that was introduced Monday (February 4), according to the Huffington Post.

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that aren’t completely congruent with either male or female. These variations can occur in the chromosomes, genitals, gonads, or hormones.

Doctors have routinely done surgery on those born intersex, often at birth or in infancy, with the goal of making it easier for them to grow up “normal.” However, many intersex activists say the results of this surgery can be catastrophic.

This bill, SB-201, was introduced by State Senator Scott Wiener. While it doesn’t ban the practice, it does limit doctors’ abilities to perform it on minors.

SB-201 prohibits surgeons from “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.”

However, in cases where the procedure is deemed “medically necessary,” the surgery can be performed without the minor’s consent.

“The fundamental premise of the legislation is that people should make decisions about their own bodies,” said Wiener. “In California we strongly believe that people are who they are and that we shouldn’t be telling people who they are supposed to be.”

The bill has been co-sponsored by the organization interACT.

Kimberley Zieselman, the executive director of interACT, explained the dangers of intersex surgery. Zieselman is an intersex woman.

“The devastation caused by medically unnecessary surgery on intersex infants is both physical and psychological,” she said. “Despite decades of patient advocates putting the medical community on notice about the harm from these procedures, many doctors continue to present these surgeries to parents as good options.”

Despite the support from the intersex community, the California Medical Association had “serious concerns” about the bill, specifically with the lack of a definition as to how old is old enough to consent.

“Our concern is that the approach in this bill may be being overly prescriptive and not give families and medical professionals the ability to take the specifics of each case into account,” said Janus Norman, the senior vice president for CMA’s governmental relations. “There are also some serious questions about the nature and the legal threshold for informed consent as used in the bill.”

If the bill were passed, doctors wouldn’t be criminalized for violation. Instead, they could be disciplined by the state’s medical board.