Protecting children with intersex traits: legal, ethical, and human rights considerations

Katharine B. Dalke, Arlene B. Baratz, Julie A. Greenberg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

9 Scopus citations


Some physicians believe that medically unnecessary cosmetic surgeries on infants with intersex traits provide a psychosocial benefit that outweighs the risks to the child undergoing the surgery. Many experts in medicine and other disciplines have called for a delay of these procedures because no comprehensive studies show that they result in a psychological benefit, much less a benefit that outweighs the reported physical and emotional risks. In the absence of comprehensive outcome studies proving which approach is correct, the law, as viewed through a human rights lens, may help shed light on how legal institutions and treatment teams should proceed. A growing number of governments and NGOs have found that these surgeries violate children’s fundamental human rights. Additional legal institutions are considering whether to adopt similar resolutions and laws calling for a delay in these procedures until the patient is able to consent or assent to the treatment. In the absence of specific legal guidance, treatment teams should ensure that the procedures they adopt protect the fundamental human rights of their patients. First, they should seek a court order authorizing medically unnecessary surgeries that may affect reproductive and other fundamental interests. Second, the treatment team must ensure that parents are given complete information, including the fact that they are authorizing a treatment that a number of governments and organizations have found to be a violation of the child’s basic human rights. Finally, after the treatment team determines that the condition poses no immediate or future health risks, the team should be guided by mental health experts (as opposed to medical experts), as well as people with intersex traits and their parents, who are in a better position to help parents reach the decision that is most likely to lead to the best psychosocial outcome for the children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Plasticity of Sex
Subtitle of host publicationThe Molecular Biology and Clinical Features of Genomic Sex, Gender Identity and Sexual Behavior
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780128159682
ISBN (Print)9780128159699
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Protecting children with intersex traits: legal, ethical, and human rights considerations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this