The ACT government has released the first draft of its proposed legislation that seeks to prevent harmful medical interventions on intersex people without their consent.

Intersex advocates welcomed the Australian-first law as a “historic moment” for the community.

“As an odd kid that grew up in Canberra with unexplained surgical scars and a few too many doctor’s visits, it’s difficult to find the words that capture all the things I feel on a day like today,” Cody Smith, senior project officer, Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA),  said in a statement.

“The first thing that comes to mind is a promise I made to myself that the next child born like me would have better opportunities. A chance to make decisions for themselves and not live with the burden of shame or secrecy. To finally realise this promise brings an overwhelming sense of relief,” said Smith.

Intersex Advocates Have Sought Legal Reforms For Over Two Decades

According to Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist and executive director of IHRA, the  “normalising’ interventions” that intended “to make the bodies of children with intersex variations fit gender stereotypes, has been our most intractable issue.”

“This is a historic moment. For more than twenty years, the intersex movement in Australia has sought legal reforms to protect people with innate variations of sex characteristics in medical settings,” said Carpenter and called on other jurisdictions in Australia to take similar steps.

The draft bill comes after years of consultation and advocacy by intersex rights groups. In 2018, the ACT government had committed to legal reforms. The Australian Human Rights Commission in 2021 urged all Australian governments to enact law reforms to protect intersex children. ACT becomes the first jurisdiction to release its draft legislation.

Non-Consensual Procedures Cause Harm

Under the Variations in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2022, there would be restrictions on medical treatment that can alter the characteristic of intersex people, except without their consent. Medical treatment would be permitted in emergencies, cases where the treatment is easily reversible, treatment does not affect their sex characteristics or in cases where the persons have given their informed consent.

Ghassan Kassisieh, Legal Director of Equality Australia said it was a “landmark moment” for human rights in Australia. 

“Everyone should be able to decide what happens to their body. Yet, surgical and other medical procedures are being performed on young children without their consent, in order to “normalise” their bodies to gender stereotypes. These non-consensual procedures can cause lifelong mental and physical health consequences for intersex people,” said Kassisieh. 

An online community briefing on the Variations in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2022 will be held on Monday June 6, 2020 from 6.30 pm to 7.30 pm by Equality Australia. Register here to join the briefing



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