NY program to address the harms of surgery on intersex children

New York is requiring state health officials to develop an outreach program to educate parents and doctors about the harmful effects of medically unnecessary treatments performed on young children born intersex.

The measure, which was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday, aims to raise awareness of people born with genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs that do not fit typical definitions of male or female. The New York City Council implemented a similar measure in 2021.

Supporters of the statewide legislation say the medically unnecessary surgeries on babies and young children born intersex carry a host of potential negative consequences that parents and doctors should be aware of.

“This education will be critical in helping parents understand that surgery is permanent and can have irreversible physical and psychological consequences,” State Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright said in a statement.

Several health and human rights organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based nonprofit that advocates against human rights abuses around the world, have called for an end to the medical treatments in the past.

In a 2017 memo, Physicians for Human Rights called the surgeries performed on intersex newborns “cruel” and “inhumane,” saying they could result in sterilization and reduced sexual function. The surgeries should only be performed when a child is old enough to make decisions about their body, they said.

According to The Associated Press, a majority of advocacy groups estimate that approximately 5.6 million people in the United States were born intersex. That estimate is based on a review published in the American Journal of Human Biology, which looked at four decades of medical literature from 1955 to 1998.

An advisory board that would help develop New York's public outreach program would be required by law to include intersex people and health care professionals who have medical expertise in treating patients who are intersex.

In California, a majority of state lawmakers rejected a bill in 2020 that would ban some medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children until they are old enough to participate in the decision.

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