A major Chicago children’s hospital has apologized for its history of performing cosmetic genital surgery on intersex babies in order to make them appear more male or female.
The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago apologized on Tuesday, saying it understood that its approach to intersex surgery was ‘harmful and wrong’.
The hospital is believed to be the first in the US to apologize for performing the surgeries.
In a letter published on the hospital’s website, CEO Dr Thomas Shanley and Chief Medical Officer Dr Derek Wheeler also apologized to intersex people who have been harmed by the treatment at their facility.
‘We recognize the painful history and complex emotions associated with intersex surgery and how, for many years, the medical field has failed these children,’ the hospital said in a statement on its website.
‘Historically, care for individuals with intersex traits included an emphasis on early genital surgery to make genitalia appear more typically male or female.
‘As the medical field has advanced, and understanding has grown, we now know this approach was harmful and wrong.
‘We empathize with intersex individuals who were harmed by the treatment that they received according to the historic standard of care and we apologize and are truly sorry.’
The hospital did not say how many intersex surgeries it had performed over the years but did say doctors had not performed a clitoroplasty surgery on an infant or child in the last five years.
Children whose genitals don’t typically align with the norm have for decades faced surgery to rearrange their anatomy to resemble that of more typical boys and girls – long before they are old enough to have a say in the decision.
Intersex genitalia can be surgically changed for an array of reasons: to change appearance, to help urination or menstruation, improve fertility and sexual function, or ward off potential medical complications.
Intersex activists have long argued that the surgery is a violation of human rights and have called to outlaw the gender-alignment surgery.
Moving forward, the Chicago children’s hospital said it was adapting its policy to ensure no irreversible genital surgeries, unless medically necessary, would be performed until the patient can make the decision for themselves.
The hospital said the policy, for now, would not apply to patients born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) – a genetic disorder that often sees a child born with ambiguous genitalia but can affect their normal growth.
‘Over the next six months, we will carefully and critically evaluate whether the same policy requiring assent/consent from intersex and CAH patients should apply,’ the hospital said.
The hospital is forming a group made up of patients, family and clinicians that will be headed by an intersex person or one with CAH. The group will provide findings to the hospital that they say will guide their future surgeries for CAH patients.
The hospital said there would not be any on children with CAH outside of those deemed medically necessary, until those findings were made.