South Carolina Sued for Involuntary Sex Assignment Surgery on Infant

The Southern Poverty Law Center
John Mark and Pamela Crawford Discuss Their Lawsuit Against South Carolina for Surgically Changing Their Adopted Infant Into A Girl

John Mark and Pamela Crawford are suing the state of South Carolina for performing sex assignment surgery on their adoptive infant three months prior to having legal custody of the child. This is the first lawsuit of its kind in the nation.

Their child, known as M.C., was born with both male and female reproductive organs, otherwise known as a special needs child that has an intersex condition. When M.C. was 16 months old and a ward of the state, under the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, doctors and department officials decided that M.C. should undergo sex assignment surgery to make M.C. a girl. The child's biological mother was deemed unfit and the biological father was considered to have abandoned the child. The decision about the child's sexuality was left to the state.

M.C. is now 8 years old, identifies as a boy, dresses as a boy, and refuses to be called a girl. M.C.'s surgery is irreversible. Left with female genitalia, his parents say that he feels like he has always been a boy and he has announced to his school and church community that he is a boy.

"It's become more and more difficult as his identity has become more clearly male. The idea that mutilation was done to him has become more and more real," Pamela Crawford said in a video released by The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is co-representing them.

"This case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice," said Alesdair H. Ittelson, SPLC staff attorney. "No one advocated for M.C.'s right to be free from unnecessary medical intervention at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is high time all involved answer for the needless injury they inflicted on M.C."

The lawsuit maintains that the surgery violates MC's constitutional rights outlined in the Fourteenth Amendment by subjecting M.C. to unnecessary surgery "without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.'s best interest."

"There was no medical reason for this decision to have been made at that time," Pamela Crawford said. "There was no threat to his life."

Learning of the surgery was "shocking," said John Mark Crawford. "I would have thought that by 2006, when the surgery was done there would have been enough red flags waved in the face of all these medical specialists and there would have been a lot more caution."

The lawsuit also claims that the doctors committed medical malpractice for "failing to obtain adequate informed consent before proceeding." It also charges that the state did not provide information about the surgery's risks, including sterilization or the elimination of sexual function. "Most important," the SPLC states the defendants did not tell them [M.C.'s guardians] that the procedure was medically unnecessary."

The South Carolina Department of Social Services and the Greenville Health System would not comment because of the litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in state and federal court, M.C. v. Medical University of South Carolina, was filed in County of Richland Court of Common Pleas. M.C. v. Aaronson was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Defendants include the South Carolina Department of Social Services, Greenville Hospital System, Medical University of South Carolina, and individual employees.

The Crawford's co-counsel include the SPLC, Advocates for Informed Choice, and pro bono counsel for the private law firms of Janet, Jenner & Suggs and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.