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Germany finally bans unnecessary genital surgeries on intersex children – but ‘loophole’ means it may still continue

Josh Milton March 27, 2021
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The UN classes unnecessary genital surgeries on intersex babies as a human rights violation (Pexels)

Relief for LGBT+ Germans was muddied Thursday (25 March) after a long-sought for ban on unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies was found to contain a loophole.

Lawmakers in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, voted to prohibit various non-therapeutic, vastly cosmetic medical interventions on intersex children that have long relied on historical stigma.

Intersex folk are born with a particular set of sex characteristics — such as chromosomes, genitalia, reproductive anatomy and hormones — that don’t fit neatly into typical binary categories of male or female.

Biological variances are perfectly natural in humans, but for decades surgeons have attempted to “fix” intersex babies with medically avoidable surgeries to alter the size or appearance of genitals before the children are old enough to meaningfully consent.

In voting to outlaw this practise, Germans wishing to pursue such surgeries on children with varied sex characteristics must be authorised by a family court, the Thomas Reuters Foundation reported.

Germany historic move to ban unneeded surgery on intersex youth has a perilous ‘loophole’

But intersex activists and lawmakers stressed that the ban is shot with loopholes that would still make it “easy”, they said, for it to carry on.

The main workaround, they said, being how healthcare providers can proceed with these surgeries by simply avoiding recognising a child as intersex.

“We’re very happy that there is finally a law about this, but the ban has loopholes and leaves many questions unanswered,” head of intersex advocacy group Intergeschlechtliche Menschen Charlotte Wunn told the outlet.

Wunn explained that parents, guardians and doctors can sidestep the law altogether by not identifying the child as intersex. If the child is made to undergo surgery, the ban does not specify any penalties for doing so.

“The room for interpretation is enormous and the ban is very easy to circumvent,” Free Democratic Party lawmaker Jens Brandenburg told Reuters.

Between 2005 and 2016, around 1,871 children under the age of 10 underwent “feminising” or “masculinising” surgery, researchers at the University of Bochum found.

The frequency of these surgeries remained consistent throughout the 11-year period, neither increasing nor decreasing at any time.

Related topics: Germany, intersex

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