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Parents of Intersex Child Sue Over 'Unnecessary' Surgery

Southern Poverty Law Center touts lawsuit that could have major impact.

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Babies born even a few days before 39 weeks gestation are at risk for health problems.

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A South Carolina couple is suing the state's Department of Social Services, a hospital, a medical school and individual hospital employees, alleging that a "medically unnecessary" genital removal surgery violated their adopted intersex child's constitutional rights.

Mark and Pam Crawford say that their child, identified as M.C., is now 8 years old and chooses to identify as a boy, despite doctors deciding that M.C. should be a girl at 16 months old. The couple say that they chose to adopt M.C., who was in state custody at the time of adoption, knowing about the intersex condition.

"The first thought that I had was, lets make sure they don't do the surgery," Pam Crawford said in an audio recording posted to YouTube. Crawford said the surgery happened about three months before the adoption.

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"I was really sad that that decision had been made for him," she said. "It's become more and more difficult as his identity has become more clearly male. The idea that mutilation was done to him has become more and more real. There was no medical reason that this decision had to be made at that time."

The Southern Poverty Law Center is spearheading the lawsuit, along with the group Advocates for Informed Choice and pro bono attorneys.

"Although long-term outcomes of today's genital surgeries in children have not been well-studied, many doctors and advocates recommend that children with intersex conditions be assigned a gender at birth, but postpone any unnecessary surgery until they are old enough to self-identify with a gender and make their own decisions about their bodies," Advocates for Informed Choice, a group that represents intersex people, said in a press release.

The SPLC said in a Tuesday statement that M.C.'s constitutional right to due process was violated by doctors performing the surgery "without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.'s best interest."

"This case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice," said SPLC attorney Alesdair Ittelson in the release. "No one advocated for M.C.'s right to be free from unnecessary medical intervention at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is high time all involved answer for the needless injury they inflicted on M.C."

The Medical University of South Carolina and the Greenville Hospital System committed medical malpractice and the state's social services department is liable for gross negligence, the attorneys argued in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

According to the Intersex Society of North America, research suggests that approximately one percent of people are born with bodies that "differ from standard male or female."

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