Australia’s Star Observer reports that Malta is the first country “to outlaw medical practitioners or other professionals from conducting any involuntary or coerced surgical intervention on minors with intersex variations.” How huge is this?


I know, you’re probably like, “Malta? Where is Malta?” (I had to look it up and I’m still not exactly sure what I’m looking at.)

But some country had to be first, and it wasn’t going to be the US. In our country, doctors still believe—without any evidence of necessity or efficacy—that genital “normalizing” surgeries have to be done on kids with intersex (in-between male and female) genitals, or they’ll grow up to be psychologically harmed.

I was at a workshop last week at University of California at Davis’s medical school with a few other intersex activists, including the incomparable Georgiann Davis, and we were talking about this—is it going to take the force of law to change the US?

Anne Tamar-Mattis, JD, said she thinks maybe so. Anne is the legal director of Advocates for Informed Choice, which is representing M.C., a child born with intersex genitals who was subject to genital “feminizing” surgery and who now identifies as a boy. At Davis, Anne presented all of the recent legal and ethical consensuses coming down the pike around the world—all in favor of stopping elective genital surgeries until children can decide for themselves.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has said “stop it.”

Germany has passed a law designed to slow down elective intersex surgical interventions.

The Swiss National Advisory Commission on Biomedical Ethics has said “on ethical and legal grounds, all (non-trivial) sex assignment treatment decisions which have irreversible consequences but can be deferred should not be taken until the person to be treated can decide for him/herself.”

I do think it would be a lot better if this system changed because hearts and minds were changed among doctors and parents. But after 20 years of working in this area, I don’t know what it’s going to take to achieve that—and I am starting to think we can’t wait anymore for the legal prohibitions to be enacted. How many children are losing healthy genital tissue while we wait for the pediatric establishment to “evolve”?

When I gave my presentation at Davis last week, I had to apologize repeatedly for shrieking, but honestly, I am at that point. I think I need a vacation—in Malta.

Alice Dreger is the author of Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, which documents her 20 years' worth of work on intersex rights.

Malta is a lovely place to visit.
Malta is a lovely place to visit. INTERPIXELS/Shutterstock