A Columbia couple is suing the Medical University of South Carolina, Greenville Hospital System and the S.C. Department of Social Services after a sexual-assignment surgery was performed on a then-20-month-old child born with both male and female reproductive organs.
Pam and Mark Crawford along with their attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Informed Choice announced Tuesday that two lawsuits have been filed in federal and state court.
The Crawfords, who adopted a child identified as M.C. in the lawsuits, say while the toddler was in the care of the S.C. Department of Social Services, doctors and department officials decided the child should undergo sex assignment surgery to "make M.C. a girl" after doctors determined the child had an intersex condition.
The condition is a difference in reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female – a condition that years ago would have been called “hermaphroditism,” attorneys said.
“By performing this needless surgery, the state and the doctors told M.C. that he was not acceptable or loveable the way he was born,” Pam Crawford, M.C.’s adoptive mother, said in a release. “They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was – not because he needed any surgery. M.C. is a charming, enchanting and resilient kid. We will not stop until we get justice for our son.”
The child — who is now 8 years old — identifies as a boy, wearing boy clothes and hairstyles.
Anne Tamar-Mattis, Executive Director of Advocates for Informed Choice, told Patch that the Crawfords adopted the child shortly after the surgery took place. Tamar-Mattis said the parents were actively seeking a child with special needs and knew of other children who underwent sexual-assignment surgery. They were prepared to raise the child as a girl, but they soon realized that would not be possible.
MUSC said it is in the process of reviewing the lawsuit and declined to further comment.
"MUSC’s general counsel and leadership will review the lawsuit through standard operating procedures for legal matters," said spokeswoman Heather M. Woolwine in a written statement. "MUSC will not be able to offer further comment on this pending litigation."
The child has benefited from tolerant surroundings. He told his classmates that he would no longer be living as a girl and would prefer to be thought of as a boy and received no backlash after making the announcement.
"Children can be remarkably accepting when they see that adults will not tolerate bullying or harrassment," Tamar-Mattis said.
The lawsuit claims there was no medical reason to perform the surgery, which they say robbed M.C. not only of his healthy genital tissue but also of the opportunity to decide what should happen to his own body.
The lawsuits also claim the defendants violated the child's 14th Amendment rights when doctors "surgically removed his phallus while he was in foster care, potentially sterilizing him and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, his sexual function."
“(The Crawfords) love their son no matter what his body is like,” Tamat-Mattis said. "But they also want to make sure this never happens again to another child."
The lawsuit also alleges that the doctors committed medical malpractice by failing to obtain adequate informed consent before conducting the surgery.
Marilyn Matheus, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services, said the agency had no comment on the pending litigation.
The couple is suing for damages to be set by the courts. The federal and state complaints are attached to this story.
Listed in the state lawsuit as defendants are MUSC, DSS and the Greenville Hospital. The federal lawsuit is against several doctors and DSS employees.
Greenville Health System also could not comment on the lawsuit.
“We cannot comment on cases in litigation,” said Sandy Dees, a spokeswoman for the hospital system.
Tamar-Mattis said the circumstance M.C. dealt with occurs in approximately 1 out of 2,000 children. She could not say whether this was the only time such a surgery took place while a child was in the care of the State of South Carolina, but Tamar-Mattis did say she was aware of the surgeries taking place in other states.
The lawsuit is the first of its kind to be filed in the United States, attorneys said.