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S.C. Couple Sues State for Performing Sex-Assignment Surgery on Their Intersex Child

Update Date: May 16, 2013 12:11 AM EDT

A couple is suing South Carolina's Department of Social Services, saying that they may have done irreparable harm to their child. The department authorized a surgery for their child, who was 16 months old at the time, that removed his penis.

Mark and Pam Crawford's child, M.C., is now eight years old. Born intersex, M.C. was born with both male and female reproductive organs and genitals, Greenville Online reports. The condition reportedly affects 1 in 2,000 people. Mr. and Ms. Crawford say that they were charmed by their son's face as soon as they saw him, and hoped that caregivers would not perform any medical interventions. However, three months before they adopted their son, M.C., caregivers, physicians and the department decided to perform the surgery that would remove M.C.'s phallus.

The Crawfords charge that the surgery was not medically necessary. They say that the state removed the ability for M.C. to make that decision by himself. They state that physicians performed the decision even with the knowledge that it could affect his ability to reproduce or to perform sexually later. They point out that the surgery could produce emotional trauma, especially in light of the fact that M.C. identifies as a boy now, and is accepted as one by his family, school and pediatrician.

The Crawfords' lawsuit is being handled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, intersex advocacy group Advocates for Informed Choice and pro-bono attorneys. According to U.S. News and World Report, it is a court case that has been described by the lawyers involved as groundbreaking.

"Although long-term outcomes of today's genital surgeries in children have not been well-studied, many doctors and advocates recommend that children with intersex conditions be assigned a gender at birth, but postpone any unnecessary surgery until they are old enough to self-identify with a gender and make their own decisions about their bodies," Advocates for Informed Choice said in a statement."I think the decisions made by the state send a message to M.C. that your body is not acceptable the way it is, that you need to have a body that conforms more toward what we think it should look like," Pam Crawford states in the video that can be found below. "I would given anything for this not to have been done to our child. I don't want it to happen to any more kids."

The family is suing M.C.'s caregivers, doctors, the hospitals in which the doctors worked, the state agency and a former director of the Department of Social Services. They are suing for damages that will be determined by the court.

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