Arguments for a ban on pediatric intersex surgery: A dis/analogy with Jehovah witness blood transfusion

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This article argues for a ban on the performance of medically unnecessary genital normalizing surgeries as part of assigning a binary sex/gender to infants with intersex conditions on the basis of autonomy, regardless of etiology. It does this via a dis/analogy with the classic case in bioethics of Jehovah Witness (JW) parents' inability to refuse life-saving blood transfusions for their minor children. Both cases address ethical medical practice in situations where parents are making irreversible medical decisions on the basis of values strongly held, identity, and relationship-shaping values—such as religious beliefs or beliefs regarding the inherent value of binary sex/gender—amidst ethical pluralism. Furthermore, it takes seriously—as we must in the intersex case—that the restriction of parents' right to choose will likely result in serious harms to potentially large percentage of patients, their families, and their larger communities. I address the objection that parents' capacity to choose is restricted in the JW case on the basis of the harm principle or a duty to nonmaleficence, given that the result of parent choice would be death. I provide evidence that this is mistaken from how we treat epistemic uncertainty in the JW case and from cases in which clinicians are ethically obligated to restrict the autonomy of nonminor patients. I conclude that we restrict the parents' right to choose in the JW case—and should in the case of pediatric intersex surgery—to secure patient's future autonomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)460-468
Number of pages9
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


  • Jehovah Witness
  • autonomy
  • disorders of sex development
  • gender assignment
  • intersex
  • pediatric intersex surgery


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