Photo: Hunter Abrams.
National, Tasmania

Report calls for laws against forced intersex surgery

Intersex community advocates have welcomed an Australian Human Rights Commission report that condemns unnecessary, non-consensual medical interventions. 

The report recommends that all Australian states and territories pass legislation to prevent such medical interventions on young people with variations of sex characteristics.

Babies and children are still routinely subjected to irreversible so-called ‘normalising’ surgeries to make their genitals appear more typically male or female.

These include removing gonads and genitals, causing scarring, nerve damage, and other complications. 

“‘Normalising’ interventions have been understood by both people born with variations in sex characteristics and those around them as meaning that their bodies are undesirable or problematic,” the Australian Human Rights Commission report reads. 

“This can fuel stigma and shame.” 

Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist and Executive Director of Intersex Human Rights Australia, welcomed the report findings.

“[The] report recognises that people with innate variations of sex characteristics have been subject to ongoing human rights abuses,” said Carpenter. 

“It builds on the vital work of the intersex movement and allies and a 2013 cross-party Senate report.

“The report identifies key problems with current clinical practice, including lack of evidence, a reliance on psychosocial rationales that are better addressed by peer support and other forms of support, and a lack of attention to concerns raised by psychological and psychiatric professionals. 

“It recognises that criminal penalties and oversight are necessary to protect the human rights of children with variations of sex characteristics in medical settings, and it calls for more action on redress and resourcing.”

Tony Briffa, Co-Chair of the Victorian Government Intersex Expert Advisory Group, Vice-Chair of Intersex Human Rights Australia, and President of Intersex Peer Support Australia, said that “intersex variations are a natural part of human diversity”.

“The report also acknowledges a need for non-medical support to affirm our human rights and dignity,” said Briffa. 

“We need resourcing for our peer support and advocacy groups.”

Simone-lisa Anderson, who is a parent of an intersex child and the Tasmanian representative on the board of Intersex Peer Support Australia, also welcomed the report, saying that “it will increase momentum for reform in Tasmania”. 

“Unfortunately, children are still undergoing unnecessary, damaging operations just so their bodies conform to society’s expectations,” said Anderson.

“People with variations of sex characteristics should have control over their own bodies, identities, and lives.” 

The Tasmanian Law Reform Institute has already recommended reform to protect young people with intersex variations from unnecessary surgeries. 

“We have encountered significant support among Tasmanian politicians,” said Anderson. 

“I’m hopeful Tasmania will soon move to recognise that young intersex people are fine the way they are and protect them from damaging surgeries.”

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