In what would constitute a national first, the ACT Government has released a draft bill that would ban sex characteristic-altering interventions on intersex children until they are old enough to consent to the procedure.
Currently, many intersex babies and children are operated on so they fit into the ‘normal’ gender categories of male and female as decided by the parents.
The new laws would only apply to medical and surgical interventions which can be deferred and permanently affect sex characteristics.
It wouldn’t stop any treatments or surgeries required to prevent disease or illness.
The proposed bill also allows treatment for medical emergencies or procedures that are easily reversible or do not affect sex characteristics.
Parents of intersex children would also be offered information, advice and psychological support.
Advocates for intersex people have been calling for these changes for years.
Senior project officer at Intersex Human Rights Australia and Canberran Cody Smith said they felt an “overwhelming sense of relief” upon learning of the government’s proposed new laws.
“As an odd kid that grew up in Canberra with unexplained surgical scars and a few too many doctor’s visits, it’s difficult to find the words that capture all the things I feel on a day like today,” they said.
“There’s a deep sense of pride and joy at being part of the process that produced this groundbreaking work.
“[I also feel] a very tangible grief for the children that couldn’t be protected sooner and for the activists we’ve lost along the way.”
A 2014 Australian study estimated 1.7 per cent of births could be classified as intersex.
Intersex is a general term used for people born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of either female or male.
It’s not always clear that a child is intersex when born as it is sometimes only evident when a person hits puberty. Many people who are intersex may face social stigma and discrimination, often due to a lack of awareness.
Some children born with intersex variations continue to be subjected to physically and psychologically painful surgeries, hormones and other medical interventions for them to fit either male or female categories.
Many experience mental health concerns arising from the effects of these surgeries.
Under the ACT Government’s draft bill, parents who want to pursue treatment for their child would have doctors follow treatment plans put together by a panel of experts.
In complicated or rare cases, an expert panel would put together an individual treatment plan.
Health professionals could face jail time for carrying out treatments that they were not approved to do. Removing an intersex person from the ACT to carry out a restricted practice would also be an offence.
The draft bill is currently open for public comment. It can be accessed online. Professionals and organisations who wish to provide a formal response can do so via email to firstname.lastname@example.org until Friday, 8 July.