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Chicago hospital apologizes for performing genital surgery on intersex infants: ‘Approach was harmful and wrong’

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 8/1/2020 Muri Assunção
Pidgeon Pagonis talking on a cell phone: Activist Pidgeon Pagonis, right, chants during a protest against genital surgeries on intersex children outside of Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago in 2018. © Courtney Pedroza / Chicago Tribu Activist Pidgeon Pagonis, right, chants during a protest against genital surgeries on intersex children outside of Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago in 2018.

A children’s hospital in Chicago has apologized for performing genital surgery on infants, becoming the nation’s first major hospital to publicly declare that the procedure is “harmful and wrong.”

In a statement released Tuesday by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, its CEO and medial staff recognized the “painful history” associated with cosmetic surgeries on infants who are born with intersex traits “to make genitalia appear more typically male or female.”

The procedure, which has been deemed a form of “torture” by the United Nations, has been condemned by a number of human rights organizations, including the Human Rights Watch, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, and GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality.

Intersex people are born with sex characteristics — such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals — that differ from social expectations. According to the United Nations Human Rights Office, “up to 1.7% of babies are born with sex characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of male and female,” which makes intersex people as common as redheads.

The hospital’s apology comes after a three-year campaign led by the Intersex Justice Project, who pushed for Ann & Robert H. Lurie to become the first hospital in the country “to end genital normalizing surgeries on intersex children.”

“We empathize with intersex individuals who were harmed by the treatment that they received according to the historic standard of care and we apologize and are truly sorry,” the hospital said.

The statement, which was signed by the hospital’s CEO, its chief medical officer, its sex development team and two heads of departments, mentioned the “brave individuals, both those affected by these conditions and medical professionals who recognized the problems [and who] spoke out about this harmful standard of care.”

Its new policy states that “irreversible genital procedures, particularly clitoroplasty, should not be performed until patients can participate meaningfully in making the decision for themselves, unless medically necessary.”

It also stated that it had not performed any such procedures “on a child or infant in five years.”

Intersex activist Sean Saifa Wall celebrated the “historic day,” but vowed to keep fighting until all hospitals in the U.S. commit to ending the practice.

Wall told the Daily News that these “medically unnecessary cosmetic surgeries” are still fairly common in the United States. It’s hard to even estimate the number of procedures, since there are no laws protecting children from it.

The New York City-born activist, who said he was “castrated” at age 13 at New York Presbyterian Hospital, is one of the founders of the Intersex Justice Project.

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