I-Team: Lawmakers consider banning intersex surgeries on children


Born with the traits of both a boy and a girl. It’s called intersex. Some doctors say they can fix the condition, but there’s a movement to ban those surgeries on children.

This is an issue more families are faced with than you might think. It’s estimated close to 2 percent of the population is intersex meaning they were born with both male and female traits.

For years, doctors have been operating on these children to essentially make them just a boy or just a girl, but the voices opposing that are getting louder.

Georgiann Davis was a little girl before her life changed after doctors made a discovery about her body.

“They wheeled me down into the operating room as a 17-year-old and told me that they were removing malignant ovaries,” Davis said.

She found out the real reason why in her early 20s. Davis says she learned was intersex. Her body looked female on the outside, but inside she had testes and that’s what doctors removed leaving her infertile and on hormones for the rest of her life.

“I felt ashamed. I felt upset,” she said.

She is now the president of InterACT, an advocacy group for intersex youth.

Some Nevada lawmakers are trying to ban those surgeries.

“Doctors, they present intersex as a medical emergency. Oh, my gosh!” Davis said.

Former legislator, Doctor Andy Eisen, testified in favor of Senate Bill 408.

“What we’re trying to do is to give the child an opportunity to grow and learn and understand themselves,” said Dr. Eisen.

Pediatric urologist Clare Close opposes the bill.

“When parents are told that their baby isn’t going to get a little pink hat in the nursery or a blue hat, it’s a very, very stressful time,” she said.

Senate Bill 408 would ban gender reassignment surgery performed on children unless an assessment confirms the child understands it or not doing it would put the child’s life in danger.

“We do not gender reassign any child who has a sex that is determined their outside parts don’t look completely normal,” Dr. Close said.

She says throughout her career, she’s performed three gender reassignment surgeries on children. And today a team including a pediatric urologist, ethicist, geneticist and endocrinologist meet with parents to discuss options before those surgeries happen.

Dr. Close calls SB 408 poorly written because she says it could also ban surgeries to fix hypospadeus. It’s estimated one in 200 boys have the condition in which the penis may not appear or function as it should.
She performs those surgeries regularly.

“If we don’t do it here in Nevada, we will be the only place in the free world who’s not doing it,” she said.

The senate passed SB 408 along party lines and now the assembly is considering it. On the national level, a lawsuit involving an intersex boy after gender reassignment surgery was performed on him is gaining attention.

And internationally, the United Nations calls the surgeries human rights violation.

“This is genital mutilation,” Davis said.

Boy or girl or boy, girl and intersex? A decision Nevada lawmakers and parents are faced with.

“We can’t even make a decision about, you know letting transgendered people use a certain bathroom. I disagree that this society is ready for a third sex,” Dr. Close said.

“I think it’s time for U.S. doctors to wake up and realize that these surgeries that are meant to help people are harming them,” Davis said.

Whether the bill passes should be known by June.

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