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Chicago hospital apologizes for performing cosmetic surgeries on intersex infants

In a big win for intersex individuals nationwide, the Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital is the first in the nation to issue such a statement. 

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The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago has become the first hospital in the U.S to apologize for performing cosmetic surgeries on Intersex infants and is now committed to ending the practice. 

Intersex people are those who are born with any of several variations in which their reproductive or sexual anatomy doesn’t fit what is considered “male” or “female.” 

According to United Nations estimates, around 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits, which is about the same amount of people born with red hair. 

As infants, intersex people have been regularly subjected to cosmetic surgery to alter their genitalia to fit into sex and gender binaries. These surgeries are medically unnecessary and done primarily to force intersex people into a binary they do not belong in. 

These surgeries have been condemned by many experts, including the World Health Organization, Physicians for Human Rights, and United Nations human rights experts. 

Human Rights Watch reported that genital surgeries done on intersex children can have debilitating effects, including loss of sexual sensation and chronic pain. 

In a post on its blog, Lurie Children’s Hospital apologized on July 28 to the “intersex individuals who were harmed by the treatment that they received” at the hospital, saying they “recognize the painful history and complex emotions and associated with intersex surgery and how, for many years, the medical field has failed these children.” 

Lurie’s apology and denouncement of the practice arrives after years of advocacy on behalf of the Intersex Justice Project (IJP), led by co-founders Sean Saifa Wall and Pidgeon Pagonis. 

In an email to the LGBTQ news organization, them., Wall and Pidgeon said that the IJP has carried out the #endintersexsurgery campaign at Lurie for three years.

Pagonis underwent a clitorectomy at Lurie Children’s Hospital. 

“[Lurie] took me and put me in their factory for boys and girls, basically,” Pagonis told CNN. “[Lurie] took my intersex body, threw me on the girl conveyer belt and tried to put me into this box that I was never meant to be.” 

Pagonis said they were brought to tears when they got the news of the policy change and apology. Both described a sense of relief that was a long time coming. 

“Lurie’s apology and their decision to postpone medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex youth is a great step in the right direction,” said Sean Saifa Wall. 

“Hopefully we are one step closer to ensuring a world where intersex children can live free from harm,” Wall said in a virtual news conference on Thursday July 30 alongside health experts, politicians and campaigners. 

In an interview with Block Club Chicago, Pose actor and transgender activist Indya Moore, drew a connection intersex and transgender liberation. 

“Whenever somebody exists in a way that counters what we’re taught about sex and gender, we’re forced to conform to these binary ideas that just aren’t true. If intersex parents can give consent for their babies to have these mutilations before they’re even able to object, that’s the same as parents sending their trans children to conversion therapy without consent. Our liberation is linked, Moore explained. 

Ellie Kim, MD, research coordinator at Lurie Children’s Hospital, affirmed that these surgeries are harmful. 

“As a medical doctor, as a physician, as a researcher, I can emphatically say these surgeries were medically unnecessary,” she said.

“People who choose for themselves have every opportunity to do so, just as I would as a trans woman. What we’re talking about today are cosmetic procedures done on infants whose gender was chosen by [doctors.] Ask me what I want before cutting up my body. It’s as simple as that,” she continued. 




 

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