Australia considers rights of people born with variations in sex

27 August 2018

The Australian Human Rights Commission is examining how best to protect the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics.

The project will learn about the experiences of people born with bodies that do not meet the medical or social norms of male or female bodies and the impact of medical interventions on their wellbeing.

Currently, there are no national guidelines or legislation on the management of people born with variations in sex characteristics in Australia.

“This project aims to learn about the challenges faced by individuals born with these variations, their families, and medical professionals who work in this space,” Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow said.

“We will consider how to ensure the human rights of these individuals are protected through clinical practice, law and in education and training.”

Commissioner Santow said the project would also investigate the risk that people born with variations in sex characteristics face non-consensual medical interventions to change their bodies to look more like what some think they should look like rather than for any medical need.

Surgical and hormonal medical interventions to change sex characteristics occur every year but there is very little data about whether they are undertaken with the informed consent of the individual, Commissioner Santow said.

There is also little known about how many of these interventions are undertaken and their outcomes.

Most countries have no dedicated oversight or specific regulation over medical interventions performed on people born with variations in sex characteristics. However, some countries have taken steps towards regulating medical interventions, particularly regarding interventions performed on children. These countries have taken considerably different approaches.

For example in 2015 Malta made it unlawful to perform unnecessary sex assignment surgery or treatment on infants, children and adolescents without the child’s informed consent, while in Germany the courts have determined a number of civil suits regarding medical interventions.

The Australian Human Rights Commission is consulting with people who are directly affected by or engaged with this issue. The Consultation process involves roundtables and interviews in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne through August and September, and written submissions.

Following consultation, the Commission will release a report with recommendations.

More information about the project and details on how to make a submission is available here.

Submissions close on Sunday 30 September 2018.

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