by Susan Cohen
A Columbia couple has filed a lawsuit against the Medical University of South Carolina, Greenville Hospital System, and the S.C. Department of Social Services for unnecessarily reassigning their son's gender.
The Post and Courier reported this week that the boy, identified publicly as M.C., was born with ovotesticular disorder of sexual development on Nov. 20, 2004 in Greenville. The rare intersex condition gave him both male and female reproductive organs.
M.C. and his twin sister were born prematurely and became wards of the state when their mother stopped showing up to visit them in the hospital, and their father could not be reached. His sister soon passed away, and M.C. spent more than two months in the Greenville Hospital System. While he was identified as both male and female in medical records, surgeons at MUSC removed M.C.'s male reproductive organs when he was 16 months old. Mark and Pam Crawford adopted their son in 2006 and initially raised him as a girl until he started presenting as a boy.
In a video released by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is are representing the Crawfords in the case, the couple says there was no medical reason for their son's sex reassignment surgery. When they were going through the adoption process, they learned that their son was intersex, but they didn't find out until later that the surgery had been performed three months before the adoption was finalized.
"I was really sad that that decision had been made for him," Pam said in the video. She goes on to explain that she had an intersex friend in high school, and she knew about the condition from her own time in medical school. "It's become more and more difficult as his identity has become more clearly male, the idea of that mutilation was done to him had become more and more real."
Mark explained that more caution should have been taken beforehand, and Pam added that she would not have chosen a gender for their son at the time. They say that now M.C. wants to be a normal little boy, and they allow him to follow those instincts as much as possible.
The couple explained that their intent is to "uphold constitutional principles and the integrity of a person's body," and to guarantee that infants have due process when adults are considering this kind of surgery. "This case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice," Alesdair H. Ittelson, SPLC staff attorney, said in a prepared statement. "No one advocated for M.C.'s right to be free from unnecessary medical intervention at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is high time all involved answer for the needless injury they inflicted on M.C." An additional federal lawsuit has been filed that names MUSC Drs. Ian Aaronson and Yaw Appiagyei-Dankah as defendants, along with a doctor from Greenville Hospital System, former DSS Director Kim Aydlette, and six DSS employees, according to the P&C.
"I think the decisions made by the state send a message to M.C. that your body is not acceptable the way it is, that you need to have a body that conforms more to what we think it should look like," Pam said.
The City Paper contacted MUSC, DSS, and Greenville Hospital System, none of whom would comment regarding pending litigation. MUSC provided the following statement: "MUSC's general counsel and leadership will review the lawsuit through standard operating procedures for legal matters. MUSC will not be able to offer further comment on this pending litigation."
The story has since been picked up by national media outlets like CNN, Reuters, and USA Today.