Parents Sue South Carolina Over Child’s Sex Surgery

By Meg Kinnard | May 17, 2013

A couple filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state of South Carolina for what they say was an unnecessary sexual assignment surgery performed on a toddler they later adopted.

Lawyers for Pam and Mark Crawford said they were suing the Department of Social Services for having irreversible surgery performed on a 16-month-old child they eventually adopted and raised as a girl.

The child was born in 2004 with both male and female genitalia and placed in state custody after the termination of parental rights, according court papers. At the age of 16 months, doctors removed the child’s male genitalia, leaving the toddler with female parts, according to court papers.

“The doctors knew that sex assignment surgeries on infants … poses a significant risk of imposing a gender that is ultimately rejected by the patient,” attorneys claim in the suit.

Instead, the lawyers argue, the optional surgery should have been delayed until the child was older and self-identified as male or female.

“That was a permanent, irreversible decision that was not theirs to make,” attorney Ken Suggs said Tuesday of the lawsuits, which he said are the first of their kind in the United States.

At the time of adoption, the Crawfords said they knew their child was born with ambiguous genitalia and raised the child as a girl starting in 2006. But about a year ago, the Crawfords say their now-8-year-old child told them he wanted to be raised as a boy. They supported the decision, allowing him to cut his hair short and wear boys’ clothes.

The Crawfords said their family is adjusting, their son is happy and has the support of his community and school. But they chose to sue to keep other families from going through similar struggles.

The state lawsuit accuses the Medical University of South Carolina — where the surgery was performed — and Greenville Hospital — where the child was born — of negligence medical malpractice for not getting the patient’s informed consent before surgery and failing to warn of potential problems resulting from it.

A spokeswoman for the Greenville Hospital System did not immediately comment on the suit. The Medical University of South Carolina and the Department of Social Services declined to comment.

The child is healthy, but the Crawfords’ lawyers say there are medical issues that can result from the surgery, including sterilization or the loss of sexual function.

“These doctors wanted to play God,” said Alesdair Ittelson, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which helped bring the lawsuit.

About one in every 2,000 children is born “intersex,” or with ambiguous genitalia, according to Anne Tamar-Mattis, an attorney with Advocates for Informed Choice, a group that supports intersex children.

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Latest Comments

  • May 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm
    Huh! says:
    They wanted the informed consent of a 16-month-old child? Really? What does a 16-month-old know about either informed consent or sexual preference?
  • May 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm
    Libby says:
    Choosing the gender of a 16-month old baby seems to border on incompetence at best and malpractice at worst. There is no way they could know which gender the child was going t... read more
  • May 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm
    safety guy says:
    1 in 2,000 kids are born intersex?!!! Something seems wrong with the world today that so many children are being born with abnormalities: Downes syndrone, Autism, and now this... read more
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