AHRC launches major consultation project: Protecting the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics in the context of medical interventions

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The Australian Human Rights Commission has launched a major project to consult on protecting the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics in the context of medical interventions.

The project is being assisted by an expert reference group that includes directors of IHRA, AISSGA and representatives of other intersex/parent-led organisations, disability and LGBTI advocates, people with legal and human rights expertise, and clinicians. The work is being led by Edward Santow, Human Rights Commissioner, with project staff including Daniel Nguyen, Stephanie Lum and Dr Susan Cochrane.

IHRA warmly welcomes this project and encourages people to contribute to the consultation process.

More about the project

The Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting a project that considers how best to protect the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics — in the specific context of non-consensual medical interventions.

Currently, there are no national guidelines or legislation on the management of people born with variations in sex characteristics in Australia.

The aims of the project are to:

  • identify key issues and obtain perspectives on current practice by consulting with various stakeholders, including individuals born with variations in sex characteristics, advocacy groups, medical professionals and representatives from federal, state and territory governments
  • evaluate the current approaches taken to medical interventions in Australia and other jurisdictions using a human rights-based framework
  • develop recommendations for a nationally consistent human-rights based approach to decision-making about medical interventions.

Background

In Australia, some people born with variations in sex characteristics may be subject to medical interventions without themselves providing informed consent. It has been reported that this may be done where there is no medical need — for example, it may take place to conform to ideas about what male and female bodies should look like. When these interventions occur without the informed consent of the individual, this could be inconsistent with their human rights.

Examples of such interventions include:

  • putting children on testosterone (a masculinising hormone) or oestrogen (a feminising hormone) so their bodies can develop to align with their presumed gender identity, without the child’s choice or understanding of the physical effects of these changes. This occurred to the child in the 2017 Family Court of Australia case Re: Kaitlin
  • subjecting individuals to ‘normalising’ interventions to shape their genitalia to look a particular way. In the 2016 Family Court case Re: Carla, the judge described how at the age of three Carla had undergone surgery that had ‘enhanced the appearance of her female genitalia’
  • other interventions include the removal of internal testes without knowledge or consent based on gendered assumptions that girls should not have testes, clitoral rescission surgery based on ideas about the appropriate size of a child’s clitoris, and vaginal construction surgeries on children.

There is growing concern about the human rights implications of these practices in Australia and internationally. In 2013, the Senate References Committee on Community Affairs considered this issue in its report ‘Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia’.

The consultation itself

The Commission is seeking input about personal experiences of medical interventions and suggestions for changes to clinical practices and legal frameworks to best protect human rights.

There are different ways you can be involved: 1) make a written submission to the project, and 2) express interest in participating in a face-to-face consultation.

The consultation process
The consultation paper (PDF) Word DOCX

The Commission is seeking input from people born with variations of sex characteristics, our families, and also policy-makers, academics and service providers.

Written submissions are sought by 31 August.
If you would like a face-to-face consultation, please contact the Commission by 3 August.

UPDATE, 3 August: The Commission has indefinitely extended the date for requests for consultations.

Make a submission

Email Steph Lum, the Commission’s contact officer for this project