Wiener legislation to ban cosmetic genital surgeries on intersex infants delayed

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s bill was opposed by doctors who said parents should decide

A bill to ban cosmetic surgeries on children born with atypical genitalia was shelved for the year before California lawmakers could vote on it amid opposition from doctors who said medical decisions should be left up to parents.

Similar legislation is being considered in other states, but the effort by intersex advocates in California will not be taken up again until January. The bill once again demonstrated the clout of the doctors’ lobby in Sacramento, with physician associations arguing the bill was too broad and that it sought to legislate complex medical decisions.

The legislation, Senate Bill 201 by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would have required that a child be old enough to consent to genital surgeries that are not medically necessary. The Senate’s business and professions committee held a hearing on the bill April 1, but its chairman, Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, delayed a vote until Monday in the hope that Wiener could work through concerns raised by medical associations.

Ahead of the vote, Wiener said Glazer asked that the bill be held until January to give more time to work with the opposition.

“We put out ideas to address concerns raised by medical associations, but they have refused to negotiate other than to offer amendments that delete the bill,” Wiener said. “I’m committed to this bill. This is a civil rights issue for these children.”

Advocacy groups for intersex people _ individuals with varying differences in their reproductive or sexual anatomy _ have been fighting to postpone genital surgeries that they say do more harm than good. They argue that instances in which the gender of a child is unclear have resulted in cosmetic surgeries on infants in which the genitalia constructed do not match the identity of the person later in life.

Surgeries in which an infant’s gender is not ambiguous, but instead the genitalia are not typical, carry risks like any other procedure, supporters argue. Those risks should be weighed by the patient in cases where there is not an immediate medical need for surgery, Wiener said.

The California Medical Association, an influential lobbying arm of doctors in the Capitol, and the Societies for Pediatric Urology both opposed the bill, saying the government should not legislate medical decisions or interfere in the difficult decision a parent makes in consultation with a doctor.

The medical groups also argued that the age of consent was unclear and that the bill was overly broad as to which surgeries it applied to, such as hypospadias, a condition affecting 1 in 200 male infants at birth in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis.

Delaying a procedure or treatment for disorders of sex development, or DSD, as the medical community refers to intersex traits, will increase the time it takes to heal from surgeries and could lead to more surgeries and psychological harm, doctors said.

“The bill will result in children being exposed to more physical and emotional pain and in the long run, likely result in (an) increased number of surgeries needed,” said Dr. Kelly Swords, a San Diego pediatric urologist who testified against the bill.

-By Melody Gutierrez, Los Angeles Times

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