Hansard transcripts of the March 2013 public hearings for the Senate Inquiry on involuntary or coerced sterilisation have been published.
Several issues are striking, not least the commonalities between the medical treatment of intersex people and the medical treatment of people with disabilities. We are grateful for the support of disability organisations like People with Disabilities Australia, and extend our support and endorsement of their submissions to the senate.
Australian Human Rights Commission
We are somewhat disappointed that the Australian Human Rights Commission was unable to make a submission on intersex; nor was mention made of intersex during the oral submission by Graeme Innes, Disability Discrimination Commissioner. This is particularly disappointing given that, in 2009, the Commission’s report Surgery on intersex infants and human rights effectively gave permission for surgeries on intersex children “to make the body appear more male or female”.
That report remains the Commission’s last word regarding medical interventions on intersex people. Human rights and biomedical ethics reports since 2009, and even a new Victorian treatment protocol, reinforce our case that surgery for appearance-related psycho-social rationales must cease (see here, for example).
Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia
Our second submission to the Senate Inquiry focused in large part on a submission by the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia. At the oral hearing on 27 March, the Chief Justice commented on intersex cases, and the absence of any non-medical perspective.
Much of the discussion with the Chief Justice focused on the role of “contradictors”, independent lawyers for a child, with the same responsibility of acting on the best interests of the child. But the appointment of a contradictor is at the option of the judge in a case. Chief Justice also pointed to difficulties in obtaining a contradictor where sought:
The last cases are really applications involving intersex—and I am aware of three cases—Lesley, Child A, Re Sally and another one a long time ago… Really, you are looking at a pretty small number of medical procedure cases that we deal with.
We do not invite advocacy or special interest groups to participate. It would not normally happen in court proceedings. But we do, when appropriate, invite contradicta or try to get a contradicta. In Alex No. 2 everyone was supporting the application. I invited the intervention of the Public Advocate to try to get contradicta, but in fact they supported the application as well so I could not get a contradicta in the end.
The Chief Justice also drew attention to Re Sean and Russell:
I would like to put on the record, because I think it is worth repeating, what Justice Murphy said in the case of Re Sean and Russell. At paragraph 84 he said:
Where a decision falls properly within the ambit of parental responsibility, the authorisation or consent to a procedure is a parental decision. In saying that, I do not fail to recognise that the process of decision-making (likely, in many cases to involve a series of separate decisions) is, of course, exquisitely difficult and, in many cases, likely to involve much pain and proper prevarication.
He said at paragraph 91, and I think this is very important:
In my view, the law should tread very lightly in seeking to intrude in, or impose itself upon, those decisions. It would in my respectful view be sad indeed if the courtroom was to replace a caring, holistic environment within which approach by parents and doctors alike could deal with the (admittedly extremely difficult) medical and other decisions that need to be made.
OII Australia, AISSGA and LGBTI Health Alliance
Intersex organisations OII Australia and AISSGA, together with the National LGBTI Health Alliance, participated in the oral hearing on Thursday 28 March. This was the only session focussing specifically on intersex issues, and it was attended by Senators Rachel Siewert (chair), Claire Moore (deputy chair) and Sue Boyce. We thank the senators for their engagement, time and consideration.
The testimony of people representing the three organisations extends over 17 pages, and it’s probably the most detailed, and personal, testimony on intersex issues ever laid before the federal parliament.
It’s difficult for us to draw out any specific comments, except to note that there was consensus amongst the organisations representing intersex people in Australia. And this, by the Chair:
CHAIR: Thank you. I’m going to have to wind this up, because we have gone over time. It is really, really valuable evidence. I take the point—no pressure! I think people would be quite shocked when they understand it is still happening.
Download the Inquiry reports on involuntary or coerced sterilisation
- Our initial thoughts on the Senate report, “Involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people in Australia”, 25 October 2013
- Intersex report: Download report on the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of intersex people, 25 October 2013
- People with disabilities report: Download report on the involuntary or coerced sterilisation of people with disabilities, 17 July 2013
- German proposals for a “third gender” on birth certificates miss the mark
- Clinicians acknowledge lack of justification for surgeries on intersex infants in Australia a compilation of quotes from submissions by the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group and the Royal Children’s Hospital, 15 July 2013
- Update on Senate Inquiry on involuntary and coerced sterilisation 13 July 2013, including data on Female Genital Mutilation
OII Australia submissions
- About our fifth, concluding, submission to the Inquiry
- Our fifth submission, dated 29 August 2013 (PDF) a concluding submission, taking into account recent developments
- About our fourth submission a response to the submission by the Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group, and new data from the Council of Europe
- Fourth submission, dated 30 June 2013 (PDF)
- About our third submission focusing on the rationales for involuntary surgery on intersex infants, and comparisons with Female Genital Mutilation; also presenting information on the M.C. legal case in the US and the 2005 City of San Francisco human rights investigation
- Third submission, dated 3 June 2013 (PDF)
- On our second submission which focused on a case detailed by the Chief Justice of the Family Court, but also the new Victorian Health Department report, and the Senate’s report on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill
- Second submission, dated 8 March 2013 (PDF)
- About our first submission
- First OII Australia submission, dated 15 February 2013 (PDF)
AISSGA and National LGBTI Health Alliance submissions
- AISSGA submission, dated 12 March 2013 (PDF)
- Third National LGBTI Health Alliance submission, dated 9 July 2013 (PDF)
- Second National LGBTI Health Alliance submission, dated 15 April 2013 (PDF)
- First National LGBTI Health Alliance submission, dated 12 March 2013 (PDF)
- Australasian Paediatric Endocrine Group (APEG), dated 27 June 2013 (PDF)
- Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), dated 10 July 2013 (PDF)
- Office of the Public Advocate, Victoria, dated 13 September 2013 (PDF)
- Ms Diana Bryant AO, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, first submission dated 22 February 2013 (PDF)
- Ms Diana Bryant AO, Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, second submission dated 2 September 2013 (PDF)
Documents tabled by OII Australia
- Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics, ‘On the management of differences of sex development’ (PDF)
- Anne Tamar-Mattis (Advocates for Informed Choice), ‘Report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Medical Treatment of People with Intersex Conditions as a Human Rights Violation’ (PDF)
- Victoria, Department of Health, ‘Decision-making principles for the care of infants, children and adolescents with intersex conditions’ (PDF)
- OII Australia, ‘Response to Victorian Health Department framework document’ (PDF)
- National LGBTI Health Alliance policy statement on the Victorian Department of Health approach to intersex young people (PDF)
- City and County of San Francisco, Report of a 2005 Human Rights Investigation into the medical “normalization” of intersex people (PDF)
- All submissions to the Senate Inquiry on involuntary sterilisation
- Terms of reference for the Senate Inquiry
- Transcript of the public oral hearing on intersex issues on 28 March 2013 (HTML and PDF) witnesses represented OII Australia, AISSGA and the National LGBTI Health Alliance
- Article on the public hearing of the Senate Inquiry on involuntary sterilisation
- Opening statement at the Senate hearing on involuntary or coerced sterilisation, 29 March 2013
- Press coverage of the intersex aspects of the Senate Inquiry, by The Age newspaper, 20 June 2013