Bioethicists and paediatric surgeons debate intersex medical interventions

On 23 June, the annual Melbourne Medical Student Conference held a session on the medical treatment of people with intersex variations. Participants were Professors John Hutson, Sonia Grover and Clare Delany of the University of Melbourne and Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, and Morgan Carpenter from IHRA. This video includes a debate, and also some discussion immediately prior. The entire video has been recorded and shared with conference participants as it is here.

We share this video for educational purposes, with the kind permission of the organisers. It provides a rare audio-visual insight into current clinical thinking, including in respect of the human rights of children. IHRA recognises the human rights implications of forced and coercive medical interventions on people with intersex variations undertaken for social, cultural or cosmetic reasons. In line with the Darlington Statement, we call for the criminalisation of deferrable irreversible interventions without personal consent, due to their human rights implications.

Content warning

This video contains discussion of human rights violations in medical settings. Please consider your mental health before watching this video. It may have an impact on your well-being, particularly if you have been personally affected by the issues it discusses. We encourage group watch sessions.

Questions to consider when watching this video

Whether or not you are directly affected, the discussion may raise issues that you have not previously considered – for example, that congenital adrenal hyperplasia can be life-threatening, but that this threat is not itself manageable via surgery.

Key questions to consider when watching the video include: Who is the patient? Why are they a patient? What is being proposed? What issues do surgery or other medical interventions address? Who makes decisions? Who informs decision-makers? What perspectives are put to decision-makers, and what perspectives are not put to decision-makers? What evidence is cited? How is that evidence selected? What assumptions are made about the interests and desires of the individuals affected by the decision?

It is also relevant to consider the composition of the panel, including the presence of two surgeons, the absence of psychosocial professionals, the way in which surgical expertise guides thinking, and the manner in which a surgical specialism can determine views about what psychosocial care is considered appropriate.

Peer support is available

Intersex Peer Support Australia offers help and peer support to individuals and family members. Please get in touch if you have been affected by this video.

More information

For more background information, you may wish to read our submission to an ongoing inquiry by the Australian Human Rights Commission on protecting the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics in the context of medical interventions. IHRA has also produced a set of policy briefings on issues raised in this video.

Morgan thanks the organisers for the opportunity to participate in this session.