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California Rejects Unique Intersex Surgery Ban For Some Kids

In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, an American flag flutters in the breeze o...

Photo by Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Above: In this Sept. 20, 2019, file photo, an American flag flutters in the breeze outside of the Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif.

California lawmakers have rejected a first-of-its-kind ban on medically unnecessary treatment for children born with ambiguous or conflicting genitalia until they are at least 6.

The bill would have banned all procedures on intersex children 6 and under unless they were deemed medically necessary by the Medical Board of California. But a majority of lawmakers on a panel thought the bill was too broad and questioned whether children as young as 6 could understand enough to help parents make a decision.

"I look at my granddaughter, who is almost 5, I don’t think that's something she could make that decision on," said state Sen. Bill Dodd, a Democrat from Napa.

Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who wrote the measure, noted that it would not require the child to make the decision but would let them have input. Wiener said the bill's defeat in committee means it is most likely dead for the year.

“Intersex people deserve legal protection,” Wiener said. “Today's vote was a setback, but this is only the beginning. We aren't giving up on protecting intersex people from non-consensual, invasive, dangerous surgery.”

Intersex people are born with genitalia, chromosomes or reproductive organs that don’t fit typical definitions for males or females.

Examples include people born with both ovaries and male genitals or incompletely formed genitals that can be ambiguous. Between 1% and 2% of the population are born with intersex traits, Wiener said.

The California Medical Association opposed the measure, saying clinical evidence for the risks of such surgeries “are still inconclusive to allow for legislating of the practice.”

Hillary Copp, a pediatric urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the measure “removes all flexibility for trained medical professionals and their loved ones to do what is in the best interest of the patient.”

Monday's committee hearing attracted many people who gave public comment, including some who were born with intersex traits and opposed the bill, saying they had the surgery as a child and don't regret it.

Bria Brown-King, a 27-year-old who was born with intersex traits, supports the bill and says they regret having surgery when they were 13.

“They may be well-intentioned, but these surgeries are often carried out with the assumption this is what the children would want as adults,” Brown-King said.

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