Australian Doctor apologises for harmful medical treatment of intersex children
8 September 2022
A leading expert in sex development and gender dysphoria has made the first public apology by a medical doctor in Australia for harmful medical treatments imposed on children with intersex variations.
Paediatric endocrinologist and academic in intersex variations, Dr Jacky Hewitt made the apology at a global conference of medical students organised by the Australian Medical Students Association (AMSA) in Melbourne.
Dr Hewitt said harm had been caused by misguided medical interventions in children with variations of sex characteristics in the past.
“Even though doctors were well intentioned, harm is caused by misguided medical care, and for that we need to apologise.
“For interventions and practices that inflict profound grief, suffering and loss to people whose medical care we, as physicians, carry responsibility.
“For the medically caused pain, suffering, hurt and indignity of people born with variations of sex characteristics, their families and communities, I say sorry,” Dr Hewitt said.
There has been no prior public apology for unnecessarily harmful medical treatments from the medical establishment in Australia.
The AMSA Global Health Conference in Narrm Melbourne facilitated a discussion on the lifelong impacts of interventions children have been exposed to over many decades.
It heard some children with variations of sex characteristics need essential medical treatment for hormone deficiencies or risk of cancer. However nonessential treatments also occur, such as unnecessary surgical removal of children’s testes or ovaries, or the surgical removal of parts of a child’s genitalia to make them look like the sex they were assigned at birth.
A deeply moving and insightful reflection on experiences of unnecessary medical treatment was heard at the event from distinguished speakers including the world’s first known intersex public office holder Tony Briffa and the Victorian Human Rights Commissioner Ro Allen.
The Conference focuses on topics in global health such as LGBTQIA+ health, Indigenous health, refugee health and climate change. AMSA is the peak representative body for Australia’s 17,000 medical students.
"Intersex variations are more common than epilepsy. But surprisingly, doctors receive little to no education regarding people with intersex variations in their training. This gap in medical and community education and awareness must be filled if we are to adequately improve the healthcare experience for intersex people," AMSA President Jasmine Davis said. The full apology given by Dr Jacky Hewitt can be found here:
“I'd like to take the opportunity today to honour all people who were born with variations of sex characteristics, their families and their communities. You always have been, and will always be, an absolutely integral part of the fabric of human life - just as you are. I’d like to reflect on your past mistreatment.
I’d like to reflect on the harm which can be caused by childhood medical interventions, particularly where harmful treatment is unnecessary or could be deferred, and also where medical care, even when essential, lacks transparency or support.
Even though doctors were well intentioned, harm is caused by misguided medical care, and for that we need to apologise. For interventions and practices that inflict profound grief, suffering and loss to people whose medical care we, as physicians, carry responsibility.
For the medically caused pain, suffering, hurt and indignity of people born with variations of sex characteristics, their families and communities, I say sorry.
I hope this apology will be received in the spirit in which it is offered, as part of a healing process.
For the future, my hope is that after this first step of acknowledging wrongs, work can begin, with mutual respect, on ensuring future medical care where avoidable harms do not happen again. A future where children born with variations of sex characteristics are given opportunity, respect and support just as they are.”
Video recording and photos from the apology are available upon request.
Jasmine Davis, AMSA President
0428 167 911
Katya Gvozdenko, Public Relations Officer
0490 099 561