NASW: Develop a Policy Statement on the Well-Being of Intersex People

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The National Association of Social Workers does not have a policy statement advising best practice in the care and treatment of intersex people. 

The term “intersex” refers to individuals born with “anatomies that are considered ‘atypical’ for either male or female bodies” (Human Rights Watch, 2017). There are over 40 variations of sex development that can be referred to as “intersex”, which makes conforming to the binary (i.e. male/female) system of gender problematic (Amnesty International, 2017). Up to 1.7% of babies are born intersex, making being intersex as common as being a naturally-born redhead (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner). 

Dominant medical procedure throughout the past 60 years has been to perform genital “normalization” surgery on infants to make them conform to a strict male/female binary (Money, Hampson, & Hampson, 1957). Due to a lack of policy regarding the treatment of intersex infants, many hospitals continue to perform early surgical intervention on infants, which fails to consider the future quality of life and well being of intersex people (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, n. d.)

Medically unnecessary intersex surgeries are “all surgical procedures that seek to alter the gonads, genitals, or internal sex organs of children with atypical sex characteristics too young to participate in the decision, when those procedures both carry a meaningful risk of harm and can be safely deferred” (Human Rights Watch, 2017).

There is currently no policy in the United States that addresses the rights of intersex children. However, there are international policies which indicate that progress is being made in intersex children's right to autonomy, self-determination, and independence. Neither the American Medical Association, nor the American Psychological Association, nor the American Academy of Pediatrics have policy guidelines for treatment of intersex children (Amnesty International, 2017), although the AMA Board of Trustees recommended a policy in 2016 urging the delay of all medically-unnecessary procedures (American Medical Association, 2016). 

As an ethics-based profession, the National Association of Social Workers should develop a policy statement guiding best practice in the care and treatment of intersex people. 

For more information, please view and share:

"Applying Social Work Values to the Care and Treatment of Intersex People" by Michelle Anklan, Lorelei Tinaglia, and Jeff Matejcek (2018)