Don’t subject intersex infants to needless surgeries: Delhi panel

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 31

In an order with far-reaching ramifications for transgender rights in India, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) has directed the Delhi Government to ban medically unnecessary sex change surgeries on intersex infants and ensure their bodily integrity.

The directions came on a petition by leading transgender rights activists who cited evidence of intersex infants being subjected to needless sex change surgeries across India and later to long term impairments requiring lifelong medical care.

“There are several instances where intersex people are treated as disabled and approached through a medical lens leading to sex reassignment interventions that cause long-term complications in them and warrant a lifetime of treatment and care. Most of these surgeries are conducted without prior, free and fully informed autonomous consent,” says petitioner Aqsa Shaikh of the Association of Transgender Health in India.

‘Done without prior approval’

There are several instances where intersex people are treated as disabled and approached through a medical lens leading to sex reassignment interventions that cause long-term complications in them. Most of these surgeries are conducted without prior approval —Aqsa Shaikh, Petitioner, association of transgender health in india

The petitioners cited the landmark April 15, 2014, Supreme Court judgment in the National Legal Services Authority versus Union of India case to argue their case. The SC order states, “No one shall be forced to undergo medical procedures, including sex reassignment surgeries, sterilisations, hormonal therapy as a requirement for legal recognition of their gender identity.”

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court had also, on April 22, 2019, relied upon the above SC judgment to direct Tamil Nadu to ban sex reassignment surgeries.

“Tamil Nadu subsequently became the first Indian state to ban sex reassignment surgeries in intersex children,” Shaikh said.

On the policy front, little has been done to address the challenge even after the UN Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disability in its September 2019 recommendations to the Government of India urged it to “take measures to prevent sex normalising surgeries in intersex children and guarantee the rights of intersex people to maintain physical and mental integrity”.

Some Indian doctors, however, continue to perform medically unnecessary normalising surgeries on infants even when the results are often catastrophic and the supposed benefits unproven, says Gopi Shankar Madurai, adviser to DCPCR.

The DCPCR in its order directing a ban on sex reassignment interventions on transgender children relied on the evidence provided by petitioners and on the opinion of independent experts.

The Delhi Government, meanwhile, said it had constituted a committee to look at the issue. Petitioners in this landmark case include Satendra Singh, Founder, Doctors with Disabilities, and Air Cmde Sanjay Sharma (retd).

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