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Parents file malpractice suit over sexual assignment surgery

A couple has sued the state of South Carolina and two hospitals for allegedly performing an unnecessary sexual assignment surgery on a toddler whom they later adopted. Lawyers for the plaintiffs stated that the lawsuits, including a medical malpractice suit, are the first of their kind in this country.

The couple filed suit over a child who was born in 2004 with both male and female genitalia and placed in state custody after the termination of parental rights. Doctors removed the child's male genitalia when the child was 16 months of age, leaving the child with female parts, according to the suit.

The couple also sued the hospital where the child was born and the hospital where the operation was performed. According to this lawsuit, the defendants engaged in negligent medical malpractice for not obtaining the patient's informed consent before surgery and for failing to warn of potential problems resulting from the surgery. According to the suit, this medical procedure should have occurred years later when the child was competent to make an informed decision and had identified as a male or female.

Plaintiffs also sued South Carolina Social Services officials for failing to protect the toddler from the surgery's consequences. In another lawsuit filed in federal court, plaintiffs alleged that doctors and state officials violated the child's civil rights by performing the surgery without consent.

The plaintiffs have raised the child as a girl since 2006 and knew that the toddler had ambiguous genitalia at the time of the adoption. The child is now a healthy 8-year-old and wants to be raised as a boy. Plaintiffs claim that the surgery could lead to sterilization, loss of sexual function or other medical issues. The suit was filed to prevent other families from going through similar struggles.

Settling or litigating malpractice cases involving a surgical error or other malpractice is complex and often requires medical expertise. Plaintiffs in these cases must show that the doctor's or other health care practitioner's deviation from the standard of care led to harm. Defendants may have different degrees and types of liability. Time periods also may limit when a legal malpractice action may commence.

Source: The Miami Herald, "Parents sue SC, hospital over child's sex surgery," Meg Kinnard, May 14, 2013

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