Couple sues state over toddler's sexual-reassignment surgery

Published: May. 14, 2013 at 3:13 PM EDT|Updated: May. 28, 2013 at 1:42 PM EDT
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The plaintiffs speak to the media Tuesday morning.
The plaintiffs speak to the media Tuesday morning.
A photo of the child (who is not being identified for privacy purposes). (Source: Southern...
A photo of the child (who is not being identified for privacy purposes). (Source: Southern Poverty Law Center)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Forest Acres couple is suing the state to challenge its decision to perform sexual-reassignment surgery on a toddler in its care who was born with both male and female internal sexual genitals.

Mark and Pam Crawford, adoptive parents of the now 8-year-old child, spoke to the media Tuesday morning about the lawsuits filed in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center and other advocates in federal and state courts.

The Crawfords say the child was born with intersex condition, which means a person is born with a sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the definition of a typical man or woman.

The suit alleges the South Carolina Department of Social Services decided to perform "dangerous and mutilating surgery" in April, 2006. The decision to make the 16-month old a girl took away the child's right to choose his or her sexual identity later in life, the suit states.

Named in the suit are the Department of Social Services, The Medical University of South Carolina, Greenville Health System and several other caregivers.

"Doctors decided to play God," said a SPLC representative Tuesday morning in front of the federal courthouse.

"It's too late for my son, but we want to put other doctors on notice," said Mark Crawford who noted the action was "drastic and permanent."

"The state took something very special away from our son, and for no reason except for adults' inability to accept people who are born different," said Pam Crawford who said her son was operated on "simply to conform to society."

The Crawfords adopted the child a few months after the surgery. They say he identifies himself as a boy to his pediatrician. Recently he asked for a boy's haircut and boy's clothing.

The lawsuit states doctors, acting as agents of Defendant hospitals, performed the surgery for the purpose of "assigning" the child the female gender despite their own conclusion that the toddler "was a true hermaphrodite but there was no compelling reason that she should either be made male or female."

At birth, the child was identified as a male because of his external genitalia, but shortly after that doctors discovered the baby had "ambiguous genitals" and both male and female internal reproductive structures, according to the lawsuit.

Defendants decided to remove the child's healthy genital tissue and "radically restructure his reproductive organs in order to make his body appear to be female," the lawsuit states.

The suit says doctors performed the operation despite the fact the toddler had high levels of testosterone and could've been raised as a healthy male or female. Advocates said the surgery carries a host of potential side effects.

"The initial sex assignment may be at odds with the gender identity that develops," said Anne Tamar-Mattis of Advocates for Informed Choice. "There may be diminished sexual sensation, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, loss of potential fertility, loss of the important health benefits of hormones, and psychological trauma comparable to that of child sexual abuse."

The suit filed in federal court alleges DSS and individual doctors violated the child's right to privacy by deciding to go forward with the surgery. The state suit alleges medical malpractice and gross negligence by DSS, MUSC and GHS.

According to the Intersex Society of North America, the condition is seen in approximately one in every 2000 births.

The couple is suing for damages, but left the dollar amount up to the courts.

Attorneys said this may be the first lawsuit of its kind in the nation.

MUSC released a statement shortly after the suit came to light.

"MUSC's general counsel and leadership will review the lawsuit through standard operating procedures for legal matters. MUSC will not be able to offer further comment on this pending litigation," said the statement.

Meanwhile, GHS said they would be unable to comment on pending litigation.

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