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A Chicago children’s hospital has promised to stop performing unnecessary surgeries on children who are intersex in order to force them into a specific gender identity.
Last week, Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital announced in an apology posted to its website that it would end genital surgeries on children, except in cases where reconstructive surgery might be deemed medically necessary to assist in a child’s regular growth or development.
The hospital acknowledged that the change was brought about because of pressure from staff, patient advocates, LGBTQIA+ advocates, and intersex people who were previously subjected to genital surgery.
Saying they welcomed the feedback, the hospital added that they had never intended to disrespect members of the intersex community by performing surgeries according to the traditional standards of care.
“Lurie Children’s shares a commitment to support and advocate for the intersex community within our walls and the larger community,” the statement reads. “We recognize the painful history and complex emotions associated with intersex surgery, and how, for many years, the medical field has failed these children.”
The hospital continued: “Historically care for individuals with intersex traits included an emphasis on early genital surgery to make genitalia appear more typically male or female. As the medical field has advanced, and understanding has grown, we now know this approach was harmful and wrong.
“We empathize with intersex individuals who were harmed by the treatment that they received according to the historic standard of care, and we apologize and are truly sorry.”
The hospital promised that, going forward, it would not perform irreversible genital surgeries on patients until they are old enough to make the decision for themselves, or unless the procedure is medically necessary to save the life or health of the patient, reports PBS affiliate WTTW.
For patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia — many of whom do not consider themselves intersex — the hospital will continue to reexamine its criteria for surgery and establish best practices for treatment.
The hospital also promised to hire and retain individuals who identify as intersex (as well as those with CAH) into decision-making roles in its Children’s Sex Development Clinic, provide new written resources to patients and parents considering surgery to inform them of the consequences of surgery, and develop new intersex sensitivity training for medical professionals.
“We believe a ‘one size fits all’ approach may deprive patients of the individualized care they deserve. Such an approach fails to recognize the complexities of human anatomy, psychology, and the nuances that come with individual patient’s needs,” the hospital said.
“Just as the model of care has evolved over the last several decades, we expect to continue to evolve. We believe it is our duty to listen to all individuals and families, review and scrutinize evidence, and change as appropriate. We have regularly engaged in, welcome, and will continue to discuss how to achieve optimal care for individuals with intersex traits.”
One of the groups that was involved in applying pressure to Lurie Children’s Hospital was the Intersex Justice Project, which began protesting the hospital’s decision to perform surgeries on intersex children beginning in 2017.
Demonstrators, including a number of intersex individuals, blasted the hospital for effectively forcing children into a biological body that may not match their gender identity, and noted that reconstructive genital surgery can lead to consequences, including nerve damage, incontinence, and sterilization.
Such surgeries have been condemned by groups like Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, and compared to “torture” by the United Nations.
Pidgeon Pagonis, a co-founder of the Intersex Justice Project who was operated on at Lurie Children’s Hospital when they were one-year-old, was one of the chief organizers of the protest.
“[These surgeries] strip some of the most intimate, private, personal and important decisions from a person,” Pagonis told WTTW. “They don’t allow a person to make those decisions about their genitalia, their reproductive organs, their hormones and their gender identity.”
Pagnois told BuzzFeed News that they wept with relief after being informed by Illinois State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) that the hospital was stopping the surgeries.
Cassidy has been among a group of lawmakers advocating for Lurie Children’s Hospital to change its policy surrounding intersex surgeries.
“I haven’t cried like that in years,” Pagnois said of learning about the hospital’s apology. “We’re not used to winning.”
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