Right to physical integrity – also for intersex people?

Most people take the right of control over one’s own body and protection from untoward interventions for granted. However, intersex people often have different experiences.

The right to bodily integrity is a fundamental human right. When ideas about norms concerning gender come into play, the validity of this right can be at risk. For a long time, it was believed that children could lead a socially integrated life, only if their genitals resembled that of a ‘typical’ penis or vulva and if as adults they could have ‘normal’ sexual intercourse.

Intersex babies, children and young people whose bodies do not conform to these norms are presumably, even till this day, often subjected to gender realignment surgeries and/or hormone treatments. Many of them endure lifelong psychological and physical damage, which may also impact their fertility and sexual sensitivity.

Consensual treatments?

Of course intersex people can themselves want to alter their sex characteristics via medical treatment.

Inter* organisations criticize, however, that until now, the definition of consent has included: consent given by the parents on behalf of children, expression of satisfaction of a treated intersex person in retrospect or consent given under pressure and without any information.

And this is against the principle of ‘personal, free and fully informed prior consent’. By this principle, consent must be given prior to medical intervention; no pressure should be exerted on the person; the person must be fully informed about the possible impact of a treatment as well as any existing alternatives. This also includes providing knowledge about ways of life that go beyond male or female gender roles or beyond any body norm. Children who are not able to give their consent should undergo a gender realignment procedure only if their life is at risk.

Protecting the right to self-determination

The medical attitude towards intersex has changed nowadays. The current guidelines recommend performing surgery on inter* children only if it is medically necessary and to involve affected persons in all decision-making from early on.

Human rights and inter* organisations as well as medical practitioners deplore that even today, gender realignment treatments are performed without being medically necessary. Therefore, they are demanding an explicit ban of any unnecessary surgeries on children so that intersex persons can also enjoy their right to bodily integrity. The new federal government is fully committed to this objective and has stated in its coalition agreement: "We will legally ensure that gender-aligning medical interventions on children are only permissible if they are medically necessary and help save the life of the child”.