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Opinion: The fight continues for intersex bodily autonomy

Intersex people have a right to physical integrity and bodily autonomy, but we often aren’t allowed to even live.

Parents can obtain genetic and chromosomal testing that can prenatally reveal intersex conditions, then make the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

Contemporary diagnostic guidelines recommend against forced early surgical interventions, have protections against discrimination, and make positive recommendations to preserve our integrity and not consider us medical emergencies.

However, we are often still aborted because medical professionals still consider us nonviable.

Forced gender conformance surgery, or ‘normalisation surgery’ to make intersex children’s genitals conform to binary expectations for male or female sex, is often solely left to doctors shortly after an intersex child’s birth.

Medical decision-makers often don’t consult with parents, let alone defer permanent treatment long enough for children to give meaningful, informed consent for surgical or other treatment.

Australia has made some improvements recently, but there is no legal requirement yet for consent from intersex patients – though several communities and human rights organisations have called for better protections.

Australia does protect intersex people from discrimination, but so far that has not extended to protection from forced surgery.

In Canada, there has been organisational activity and calls to respect intersex bodily autonomy, especially in the case of forced surgeries, but no legislation so far.

The United States has seen activity since 2005 to protect intersex patients from early interventions, starting with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission.

In 2018, the state senate of California condemned forced surgery, and this year, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago acknowledged these issues, along with commitments to try to address them.

Because the United States is particularly litigious, some legal cases have also changed the medical climate, forcing policy changes in specific hospitals due to legal and financial liability concerns.

Though the medical community and diagnostic and treatment standards are improving along these lines in Australia and North America, intersex people still do not have legal protection from selective abortion or forced surgery.

Perhaps with continued pressure and interest, legislators and intersex organisations can continue to make improvements.

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