INTERSEX advocates have condemned a Family Court decision to allow the parents of a five-year-old intersex girl to go ahead with surgery to remove her male reproductive organs.

Known as ‘Carla’ the girl was born with female appearing genitalia but no female reproductive organs. Rather she has internal testes (gonads), typically associated with male reproductive development.

One reason Carla’s parents argued to have the gonads removed is because of a increase risk of Carla developing cancer.

Carla’s parents applied for permission to have her testes removed, which will leave her sterile and presenting as a female.

According to testimony in the Family Court, Carla was born with female-appearing genitalia and presented with “stereotypically female” behaviour, she preferred being called a girl and played with more typical girls’ toys.

“She happily wore a floral skirt and shirt with glittery sandals and Minnie Mouse underwear and had her long blonde hair tied in braids …. She never tries to stand while urinating, never wants to be called by or referred to in the male pronoun,” one of Carla’s doctors told the Court.

Family Court Judge Colin Forrest said in making his ruling: “I consider the proposed medical treatment ‘therapeutic’ as being necessary to appropriately and proportionately treat a genetic bodily malfunction that, untreated, poses real and not insubstantial risks to the child’s physical and emotional health”.

However, intersex advocates have denounced the decision describing it as disturbing saying the Family Court has “failed to protect the rights of the child in this case, according to internationally recognised principles regarding the right to health, personal integrity, self determination, and protection from torture and harmful practice”.

“The case is remarkable, not only for the gender stereotyping behind a decision that parents could authorise their child’s sterilisation without Court approval, despite evidence of “intermediate” gonadal cancer risk and a clinical “consensus” document that states gonads in such cases should be monitored, not removed,” said Organisation Intersex International Australia (Oii Australia) co-chair, Morgan Carpenter.

“The case is also remarkable because it drew attention to historical medical interventions on the 5-year old, including genital “enhancements”.”

In 2013 the Australian Senate held an inquiry into involuntary or coerced sterilisation including a chapter on the sterilisation of intersex people to reduce cancer risks saying “basing a decision on cancer risk might avoid the need for court oversight in a way that a decision based on other factors might not”.

“The committee is disturbed by the possible implications of this,” the inquiry said.

Oii Australia also pointed out that the UN Committee against Torture, Committee on the Rights of the Child and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other bodies recently called for an end to such interventions and people who force such interventions should be held to account.

“States must, as a matter of urgency, prohibit medically unnecessary surgery and procedures on intersex children,” a panel of UN experts said.

“Intersex children and adults should be the only ones who decide whether they wish to modify the appearance of their own bodies – in the case of children, when they are old or mature enough to make an informed decision for themselves.”

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