World First: Malta to Outlaw Unnecessary Surgery on Intersex Minors


Last week Malta became the first country to make illegal unnecessary surgical interventions on intersex minors.

The Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act was passed by the Maltese parliament with cross party support.

The bill states in part: ““It shall be unlawful for medical practitioners or other professionals to conduct any sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of a minor which treatment and/or intervention can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent: Provided that such sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of the minor shall be conducted if the minor gives informed consent through the person exercising parental authority or the tutor of the minor.”

The measure has been put in place to allow intersex individuals to determine their own gender identity as they grow up.

People with intersex variations are born with physical, hormonal or genetic features that are neither wholly female nor wholly male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male. The lowest popular estimate of the number of people with intersex conditions is around 1 in 2000.

The issue of bodily autonomy is a topic frequently addressed by intersex advocates, as many intersex individuals are made to undergo unnecessary and in some cases harmful medical procedures to conform to ideals of male or female. Organisation Intersex International Australia (OII Australia) praised the Maltese government for being the first to outlaw such procedures in a statement on their website.

“This is an historic moment. The Act contains key improvements from all existing Australian legislation that seeks to address intersex issues. This includes recognition of a right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy that protects infants and children from non-necessary medical interventions, of types that still take place in Australia and around the world for “psychosocial” rationales such as parental distress and improving marriage prospects.”

In April last year the Maltese government passed legislation allowing same sex civil unions and adoption for same sex couples, as well as introducing protections against discrimination for transgender people.

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