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AIC’s Groundbreaking Lawsuit Accuses South Carolina, Doctors and Hospitals
of Performing Unnecessary Surgery on Infant
Important First Victory in M.C. Case
For the first time, a federal court has concluded that a medically unnecessary sex-assignment surgery on a child with an intersex condition could be a violation of the Constitution. This marks an important step forward in seeking justice for “M.C.,” a young man who was needlessly subjected to the procedure as an infant in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
U.S. District Judge David C. Norton of the South Carolina Charleston Division denied a motion by the defendants to dismiss the case, ruling from the bench following oral arguments August 22, 2013.
Says AIC Director Anne Tamar-Mattis, “The Court’s decision to allow this case to proceed permits the Court to consider the profoundly important constitutional issues at stake. By removing M.C.’s healthy body parts and trying to make him a girl absent any pressing reason, Defendants violated M.C.’s constitutional rights. No one advocated for M.C.’s rights when this decision was made at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. We look forward to the chance to make our case at trial and bring justice to M.C. and children like him.”
The defendants made this decision even though there was no way of knowing, at such an early age, whether M.C. would grow up to be a male or female. Defendants did not even provide a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.’s best interests. M.C. has since grown into a healthy 8-year-old boy, although he will never get back the phallus and testicle that were removed.
First-of-Its-Kind Lawsuit Sues for Irreparable Harm Resulting from Surgery
On May 14th, 2013, Advocates for Informed Choice, The Southern Poverty Law Center, and pro bono counsel for the private law firms of Janet, Jenner & Suggs and Steptoe & Johnson LLP filed a lawsuit against South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS), Greenville Hospital System, Medical University of South Carolina and individual employees for performing an irreversible and medically unnecessary surgery on an infant who was in the state’s care at the time of the surgery.
The lawsuit, filed in both state and federal court, charges that it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution when South Carolina doctors working for the state surgically removed the healthy genital tissue of a 16-month-old child, potentially sterilizing him and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, his sexual function.
M.C. was born with an intersex condition (previously called hermaphroditism) – a reproductive or sexual anatomy that does not fit typical definitions of male or female. Doctors referred to M.C. as a “true hermaphrodite.” The child was in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services when doctors, in cooperation with social services employees, decided to perform this medically unnecessary surgery. Children with M.C.’s intersex condition have bodies that are not easily labeled as either male or female.
Typically, children with these conditions develop as a boy or girl as they grow. Despite not knowing whether M.C. would grow up to be a man or woman, or whether he would elect to have any surgery at all, the defendants performed sex-assignment surgery on a 16-month-old child, removing his healthy phallus in an attempt to make M.C. a girl. M.C. has shown signs of developing a male gender and now, at age 8, has clearly identified himself as a boy.
According to AIC’s Anne Tamar-Mattis, lawsuit co-counsel, “this case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice.” No one advocated for M.C.’s rights when this decision was made at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is time the state and all involved answer for the needless harm they inflicted on M.C.”
The lawsuit is the first of its kind in the U.S. Since the 1950’s doctors have performed this type of sex assignment surgery on infants with intersex conditions. They often fail to provide full information about the risks to the children’s parents or guardians. This lawsuit was filed on behalf of M.C. by his adoptive parents, Mark and Pam Crawford, who seek justice for M.C. and hope to end this inhumane practice.
“By performing this needless surgery, the state and the doctors told M.C. that he was not acceptable or loveable the way he was born,” Pam Crawford said. “They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was – not because he needed any surgery. M.C. is a charming, enchanting and resilient kid. We will not stop until we get justice for our son.”
- Sign on to Support M.C.
- Leading bioethicist Alice Dreger in The Atlantic
- The Huffington Post
- The Huffington Post highlights local coverage of lawsuit.
- US News & World Report
- USA Today
- WLTX in Colombia, South Carolina
- Exciting in-depth analysis by Erica K. Landau of The Huffington Post
- View all lawsuit coverage here
- Read the full press release (2013)
- Updated press release (2014)
- State Order Denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (2014)
- Watch the Crawfords speak out for M.C.
- Follow the case on facebook, twitter, AIC’s blog & Inter/Act’s blog!
- Need support? Find Resources for people with DSD/ intersex conditions
- Learn more about Project Integrity here.