Friday, April 3, 2015

Pro-life nation of Malta pioneers bodily autonomy protections for intersex babies

Above: Intersex advocates protest cosmetic genital surgery on children
The European island nation of Malta is known for its strong pro-life stance. Despite pressure from the European Union, Malta continues to recognize the right to life of preborn babies.

It is also, interestingly, a champion of bodily autonomy:
MALTA has become the first country in the world to outlaw medical practitioners or other professionals from conducting any involuntary or coerced surgical intervention on minors with intersex variations. 
... The new law officially recognises the right to bodily integrity and physical autonomy and protects intersex infants and children from non-necessary medical interventions.
The legislation was passed with cross party support and prohibits "any sex assignment treatment and/or surgical intervention on the sex characteristics of a minor which treatment and/or intervention can be deferred until the person to be treated can provide informed consent." In other words, the surgery must wait until the child is old enough to have a say.

Infants with intersex conditions are often subject to genital surgery that is entirely cosmetic, with the aim of making the genitals look more typically male or female. Advocacy groups for intersex people, such as Inter/Act and the Intersex Society of North America, speak out strongly against such unnecessary, non-consensual procedures. As one intersex youth put it: "Surgery is a last resort for everyone else. Why should it be different for us?"

The pro-life relationship with bodily autonomy is often combative, because bodily autonomy is so often used as a rationalization for violence. We should look to Malta as an example and realize that bodily autonomy is more than just another pro-abortion argument to debunk. Bodily autonomy does matter. Yes, it's been much abused, and no one has the right to harm others. But it can serve important and noble functions, such as prohibiting eugenics-driven sterilizations, requiring informed consent, and preventing kids from undergoing medically unnecessary genital surgeries.

Kudos to Malta for showing us that the right to life and the right to bodily autonomy are entirely compatible. Indeed, in this case, they are two aspects of the same mission: protecting children who are too young to speak for themselves. Malta's abortion-supporting neighbors would be wise to follow its lead.

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