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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 17, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 20x
Couple sues over son's sex assignment surgery
Section One
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Couple sues over son's sex assignment surgery

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A South Carolina couple filed suit on May 14 on behalf of their adopted son, charging doctors and state social workers with performing an unnecessary sex assignment surgery on him when he was an infant.

The child, who is now 8, was born with both male and female genitals. At 16 months old, doctors performed surgery to make his body appear female. According to the child's adoptive parents, he now strongly identifies as male and has begun living as a boy.

The parents' attorneys told Reuters that the suit, filed in both state and federal courts, is the first of its kind in the United States. In the filing, the parents argue that doctors should not have performed the surgery when they knew they could not predict how the child's gender identity would develop.

'AN ABHORRENT PRACTICE'
'We feel very strongly that these decisions to permanently alter somebody's genitalia and their reproductive ability for no medical reason whatsoever is an abhorrent practice and can't be continued,' Pam Crawford, the boy's mother, told Reuters in a phone interview.

'It is too late for our son,' she added. 'The damage has been done to him.'

The child, identified only as MC, was born in South Carolina in November 2004 and entered the state's foster care system in February 2005 after being removed from the custody of his biological parents.

Shortly after he was born, doctors noted that he had 'ambiguous genitals' and both male and female reproductive organs, the lawsuit says.

Though doctors determined that he could be raised as either a boy or a girl, they opted for genital surgery that made the child's body look female, a decision the child's parents say was premature because his dominant gender identity had not yet emerged.

IDENTIFIES AS MALE
The Crawfords got custody of MC when he was 20 months old and initially raised him as a girl. But they said they soon noticed that MC tended toward interests typically associated with males and preferred boys' clothing. As he grew older, he asked for his hair to be cut short like his father's and wanted to join a gymnastics class as a boy, they said.

'He's always been able to amuse himself with a toolkit,' Mark Crawford said. 'He's more likely than any of our other children to be climbing trees, wanting to ride bikes, flying model airplanes.'

A couple of months ago, in consultation with their pediatrician, the Crawfords said their son made the transition to live as a boy and has been accepted as one by his friends.

But they added that the long-term consequences of the surgery are heartbreaking to try to explain to him.

'It's really tough because he's now asking the questions about how he can be like everybody else,' Pam Crawford said.

RIGHTS VIOLATION ALLEGED
'The surgery eliminated MC's potential to procreate as a male and caused a significant and permanent impairment of sexual function,' the Crawfords say in the complaint filed in state court.

'The doctors knew that sex-assignment surgeries on infants with conditions like MC's poses a significant risk of imposing a gender that is ultimately rejected by the patient,' the lawsuit says.

The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston, South Carolina, says the surgery violated the child's constitutional rights.

Sex-assignment surgeries on infants with intersex conditions have been performed since the 1950s, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Informed Choice, which are helping represent the Crawfords and their child.

The medical procedures often are performed without the risks being fully explained, the groups said.

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