A South Carolina couple will receive $440,000 from a hospital for performing surgery on their intersex son, ending a four-year court battle.
Pam and Mark Crawford sued the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) for performing surgery on their adopted son, M.C., when he was 16 months old. M.C. was born with both male and female biological traits, but was subjected to surgery to make his genitals appear more female. The Crawfords adopted M.C., who is now 12, when he was almost 2. They initially raised him as a girl, but by the time he was 7, he identified as a boy.
At the time of his surgery, M.C. was in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, which consulted the Greenville Hospital System in deciding to operate on him. Greenville settled with the Crawfords for $20,000 last year. MUSC denies any liability but agreed to settle “to avoid the costs of litigation.”
After initially saying he could be raised as either a boy or girl, surgeons ultimately decided to assign M.C. as female, and removed his penis and testicular tissue. In 2014, Mark Crawford told the Atlantic that, in retrospect, M.C. “never gave us any indication that he was not a boy.”
When M.C. was 9, the Crawfords told the Atlantic that their son sometimes asked them questions like, “When will I grow a penis?”
In the suit, the Crawfords allege doctors didn’t convey all of the risks and options at the time.c They also claim M.C. has incurred medical bills, psychological damage, pain, suffering, and impairment, as a result of the surgery. “We’re always really matter-of-fact about it,” Mark Crawford said. “He gets sad as he realizes more and more what has happened to him.”
Mark explained that the filed suit “to uphold these constitutional principles—integrity of a person’s body and some kind of due process for infants where people around them in power are considering doing surgeries like this.”
His wife added, “I would give anything for this not to have been done to our child. I want to see that his suffering will not be entirely wasted.”
There are many different types of intersex variations, which may affect chromosomes, internal reproductive organs, hormone levels, or genitalia. It’s estimated that up to 1.7% of the global population is born intersex, about the same those born with red hair.
As the first public case of its kind, M.C.’s case has been closely followed by intersex advocates, who have long argued that infant genital surgery is usually medically unnecessary and often does more harm than good. A number of studies have suggested that many intersex people operated on as infants feel, like M.C., that they had been assigned the wrong sex.
The procedures can also leave recipients sterile, interfere with urination, and reduce or eliminate the ability to experience sexual pleasure. Even those who do feel at home in their bodies often show high levels of psychological distress when they learn about the surgery, which is almost always irreversible.
Since the 1950s, doctors have argued that the surgery is necessary to prevent psychological trauma, but a long-term study recently published in The International Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology indicated intersex children who were not operated on showed “no major concerns.”
The settlement was announced the same week Human Rights Watch and InterAct released a 160-page report calling for a ban on infant genitoplasty. It urged doctors and parents to allow intersex babies born with healthy genitals to wait on any procedure until they’re old enough to decide for themselves.
In June, three former U.S. Surgeons General also condemned infant genitoplastyas unnecessary and harmful.