Post and Courier
May 15, 2013
Parents sue MUSC, others for performing 'unnecessary' sex-assignment surgery on baby
by Lauren Sausser
Premature twin babies were born in Greenville on Nov. 20, 2004, each weighing less than 2 pounds.
|What is intersex?|
Intersex, or disorders of sexual development, encompasses a variety
of “conditions that lead to atypical development of physical sex
characteristics,” according to the American Psychological Association.
In layman's terms, many babies with intersex conditions are born with
genitalia that resemble some combination of male and female
The American Psychological Association and the Intersex Society of
North America acknowledge that it's hard to determine how many babies
are born with intersex conditions, because the government does not track
“Here's what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how
often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a
specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to
about 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 2,000 births,” the society's website said.
Weeks after their birth, the twins' mother stopped visiting them in
the hospital. She was nearly impossible to reach by phone, a Department
of Social Services report noted. Their father wasn't around either, but
the worst wasn't over yet.
One of the twins, a girl, eventually died. The second child, called
M.C. in court records to protect his identity, spent 21/2 months in the
Greenville Hospital System. The infant posed experts with a medical
mystery. Doctors couldn't figure out if the baby was a boy or a girl.
On Tuesday, the Columbia couple who eventually adopted M.C. from
state custody in 2006 filed what might be a one-of-a-kind lawsuit
against the Medical University of South Carolina, DSS and the Greenville
Hospital System. They say the defendants carried out an “irreversible,
painful and medically unnecessary” sex-assignment operation on their son
before he was old enough to choose a gender himself.
M.C. was born with a rare intersex condition called ovotesticular
disorder of sexual development. It affects only one out of every 83,000
babies, the Intersex Society of North America estimates. He had parts of
the male and female reproductive systems.
Court papers say physicians alternatively identified M.C. as male and
female in medical records. There was no clear indication that the child
was more male than female, or vice versa, at the time of the surgery in
Charleston, the lawsuit alleges.
Surgeons removed evidence of M.C.'s male reproductive organs when he
was 16 months old, but it is not clear why doctors ultimately decided on
assigning the child as a female. Medical records included in the
lawsuit show that physicians working with M.C. indicated there “was no
compelling reason that she should be either male or female.”
The Crawfords initially raised M.C. as a girl, although, “It became
clearer and clearer over time that he was letting us know that his
gender was a boy,” Pam Crawford said in a telephone interview.
For example, he played with typical “boy toys,” wore boy clothes and
always dressed up as a superhero for Halloween, his mother said.
Now, “M.C. is living as a boy with the support of his family,
friends, school, religious leaders and pediatrician,” according to court
records. He is in first grade. The Crawfords filed the medical
malpractice lawsuit Tuesday morning in Richland County Common Pleas
A separate federal lawsuit was filed in Charleston, alleging that M.C.'s constitutional “procedural due process rights to bodily integrity, privacy, procreation and liberty
were violated. The federal lawsuit names MUSC Drs. Ian Aaronson and Yaw
Appiagyei-Dankah as defendants, as well as Dr. James Amrhein of
Greenville Hospital System and former DSS Director Kim Aydlette.
Meredith Williams, Candi Davis, Mary Searcy, all DSS employees
involved with M.C.'s case, and three other unidentified DSS employees,
are also named as defendants. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages.
MUSC and the Greenville Hospital System issued statements saying that
the hospitals would not comment on the pending litigation. A call to
the Department of Social Services was not returned.
The lawsuit does not specify who paid for the surgery but alleges
that the three doctors named as defendants “formed the treatment team
that ultimately urged SCDSS officials that M.C. undergo sex assignment
surgery in order to make his body appear female.” At the time of the
operation, the child was in custody of the state, which authorized the
The Crawfords said they hope to set a legal precedent that
sex-assignment operations should not be performed until a child is old
enough to make a choice.
“His choice has been taken from him. It's too late for our child. We want it to stop for other children,” Pam Crawford said.
Mark Crawford said the decision to make M.C.'s operation public
wasn't easy, and the family is trying to protect their son's privacy
during the court case.
“Developmentally, as appropriate, we'll try to explain these things. I
think M.C. understands that his body was kind of in between male and
female. ... I think he understands that's the way nature made him,” he
said. “But when it comes to explaining surgery and lawsuits, that will
have to wait.”
The lawsuit may be the first of its kind in the nation, according to
lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group helping
the Crawford family file the lawsuits.
Alison Piepmeier, director of Women's and Gender Studies at the
College of Charleston, who is not involved in the Crawford case, said
the lawsuits are evidence that gender-identity issues are being
discussed more openly than ever before.
“There are a small but significant number of people born every year
who are called intersex,” Piepmeier said. “What the experience that
these folks show us is the categories that we assign — male and female —
may be too limited.”