22 March 2023 – Intersex advocates and LGBTIQ+ groups today welcomed Australia’s first laws to protect intersex people from medical procedures modifying their sex characteristics without their consent, calling the ACT legislation a landmark moment for the nation.
They also called on all other states and territories in Australia to follow the ACT’s lead and protect the rights of all intersex people in medical settings.
The ACT Government on Wednesday introduced a bill to parliament that will prohibit unnecessary medical treatments on most people with innate variations of sex characteristics until the person can make the decision themselves.
It follows decades of advocacy by intersex people and organisations.
Morgan Carpenter, bioethicist and Executive Director of Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA):
“We’ve been proud to work with the ACT government on this innovative law reform and our thanks go to the Chief Minister and his government for their extraordinary careful and thorough work.
“These reforms promise to ensure that medical interventions on many people with innate variations of sex characteristics meet human rights norms. They will enable individuals, to the maximum extent possible, to make their own decisions about their own bodies – in their own time, and in line with their own values and principles.
“We hope that other jurisdictions will take up the challenge, implementing the similar reforms to ensure maximum benefit and national consistency.”
Ghassan Kassisieh, Legal Director of national LGBTIQ+ organisation, Equality Australia:
“We congratulate the ACT Government on introducing a landmark bill that takes the human rights of intersex people in Australia a huge step forward.
“These laws will ensure more intersex people can decide what happens to their own bodies, so they are not left with the physical and psychological scars of unnecessary medical decisions made about them without their say..
“We call on all states and territories to pass laws protecting intersex people from unnecessary medical procedures, and we look forward to seeing this bill passed by the ACT Parliament and ensuring it protects all intersex people.”
Vik Fraser, Executive Director of ACT-based A Gender Agenda (AGA), an organisation supporting intersex, trans and gender diverse people:
“We are proud to have worked with the ACT Government in the development of this legislation. We thank and commend the Chief Minister and the ACT Government for the leading stance taken on this matter, and the considered approach enacted in the development of this legislation.
“Embedding the medical treatment of children born with innate variations of sex characteristics into a human rights framework is a huge, positive step forward.
“Individuals should have the right to informed medical consent, and allowing deferrable and irreversible surgery on children and infants goes against this framework, with the potential for far-reaching implications. We welcome this move by the ACT Government to ensure that children born with innate variations of sex characteristics will have the ability to make their own decisions about their bodies, based on individual values and in accordance with human rights.”
Warning: This section contains descriptions of surgeries that may be distressing.
Tony Briffa, Mayor of Hobson’s Bay in Melbourne, and international LGBTIQ+ advocate. She is also the world’s first openly intersex mayor:
“Unnecessary, irreversible hormonal and surgical interventions continue to be performed on infants and children born with intersex variations in Australia. These include surgeries to reduce the size of a baby girl’s clitoris and surgeries to remove healthy gonads.
“I commend the ACT government for introducing a Bill to protect children so they can decide for themselves what surgeries or hormonal interventions they want when they are old enough. I call on all other states to do the same.”
- ‘Intersex’ is an umbrella term that refers to people born with hormonal, chromosomal or anatomical variations of sex characteristics that do not align with social or medical norms for male or female bodies.
- This can include many different variations in sex chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs and/or sexual anatomy.
- In October 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urged all Australian governments to implement measures that prevent harmful medical interventions on intersex people without personal consent.
- To date, only the ACT and Victorian governments have committed to ending such procedures.
- In 2021 Equality Australia was commissioned by the Victoria Government to develop a legal model for reform. After the largest consultation in Australia of its kind, the report was published to assist Victoria and the ACT to develop legislation. The ACT bill reflects many of the recommendations of the report.
Some consequences of early and unnecessary medical procedures on intersex people can include (according to the AHRC report P38-41):
- Loss of sexual function and sensation
- Loss of fertility
- Urinary tract issues, including incontinence
- A need for ongoing medical treatment/repeat surgeries
- Incorrect gender assignment
- Loss of autonomy and loss of choice
The ACT bill includes:
- Restrictions on medical treatments altering the sex characteristics of many intersex people except with personal consent, in emergencies, or when authorised by an independent assessment board
- The creation of an independent assessment board with committees comprised of people with lived experience and experts in medicine, human rights, ethics and psychosocial support, who will oversee medical treatment plans for intersex children and others who do not have capacity to consent to necessary treatment.
- Offences and other regulatory provisions that enforce these principles.
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