Various human rights bodies have recognized that the unnecessary medical treatment of people with intersex conditions rises to the level of human rights violations. The World Health Organization
(WHO) explains that “[i]ntersex persons,
in particular, have been subjected to cosmetic and other non-medically necessary surgery in infancy, leading to sterility, without informed consent of either the person in question or their parents or guardians.” The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture
(SRT) has also called for an end to the abuses against intersex people: “Children who are born with atypical sex characteristics are often subject to irreversible sex assignment, involuntary sterilization, involuntary genital normalizing surgery, performed without their informed consent, or that of their parents, ‘in an attempt to fix their sex’, leaving them with permanent, irreversible infertility and causing severe mental suffering. . . The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to repeal any law allowing intrusive and irreversible treatments, including forced genital-normalizing surgery, involuntary sterilization, unethical experimentation, [or] medical display … when enforced or administered without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.” (SRT 2013) As explained by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
in February 2015, “[t]he committee is deeply concerned about…cases of medically unnecessary surgical and other procedures on intersex children, without their informed consent, which often entail irreversible consequences and can cause severe physical and psychological suffering, and the lack of redress and compensation in such cases.”
Parents of children with intersex traits find themselves pressured by medical personal to make a crucially important decision for their child when the child is unable to participate in the decision making process. As opposed to providing families with adequate mental health care to process the situation, children with intersex traits are pathologized by the medical community and the decision to perform early and irreversible genital surgery is presented as a medical need due to generalized discomfort around the diverse array of natural human bodies. Often the parents are presented with the option to operate when the child is very young and has no medical need for surgery, when cosmetic surgeries could just as easily be performed later when the child is able to participate in the decision. Parents are put in the difficult position of making medical decisions they never anticipated, in an area where the United States lags behind international human rights law, and with little evidence to guide them. While some parents are comfortable with the information given to them by their children’s doctors, most report feeling pressured to make quick decisions without adequate information or support.