Seven UN Agencies: Surgery as a Condition of Legal Recognition is Forced Sterilization

WHO Report CoverIn “Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization – An interagency statement,” the World Health Organization (WHO) and several other UN agencies have recognized that sterilization without the “full, free and informed consent” of an individual is a violation of that person’s human rights.

The UN Health (WHO), Human Rights (OHCHR), Women’s (UN Women), Development (UNDP), Population (UNFPA), Children’s (UNICEF), and AIDS (UNAIDS) agencies issuing the statement recognized that transgender people have been historically, and are currently, discriminated against through policies requiring surgery, often resulting in sterilization, in order to obtain legal documents reflecting their gender identity and other forms of legal and social recognition. As the statement observes, “According to international and regional human rights bodies and some constitutional courts, and as reflected in recent legal changes in several countries, these sterilization requirements run counter to respect for bodily integrity, self-determination and human dignity, and can cause and perpetuate discrimination against transgender and intersex persons.”

While surgical procedures are medically necessary and desired (and still often inaccessible) for many transgender people, others are forced to choose between unwanted surgery and complete denial of their identity. The statement recommends that laws, regulations, and policies be adopted which “…ensure that sterilization, or procedures resulting in infertility, is not a prerequisite for legal recognition of preferred sex/gender.”

Many U.S. states still have laws requiring procedures which result in infertility to be undertaken before the state will recognize a gender other than the one assigned at birth on a driver’s license, birth certificate, or other legal document. All medical procedures should be private decisions based on medical needs–not forced by the state. While seldom recognized as a form of forced sterilization in the United States, these laws often force an intolerable choice between basic human rights. The National Center for Transgender Equality will continue to work alongside local and state advocates to make the human right to medical and reproductive decisions made with “full, free and informed consent” a reality across the United States.

Read the full joint statement online here.

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