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NEWS | UPFRONT
THE LBQ WOMEN’S HEALTH CONFERENCE CHALLENGES INTERSEX SCREENING
BY JACQUELINE HOWARD
The Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer Women’s Health
Conference is a major event in queer women’s calendars
largely because it is one of the few opportunities they have to
access specialised medical information as a group.
Much of the conference centred around discrimination in its
multiple forms.One issue thatis not discussed often enough is
the practice of intersex and disability traits being screened out
during reproductive procedures.
The intersex experience is intrinsically linked to the disabil-
ity movement. In the medical world intersexuality is generally
labelled as a disability because it is deemed to fall under the
World Health Organisation’s definition of disability as a ‘genetic,
chromosomal or hormonal impairment’. This view is flawed
because the medical model of a disability refers to an impair-
ment or problem in the body that requires medical treatment,
whereas the WHO definition in this context resembles the social
model, which refers to the confliction of a body with its social
environment. As a result, the intersex community has faced stig-
matisation alongside the disabled community.
The screening process occurs during sperm testing or pre-
implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). In this process, a cell is
removed from the developing embryo and expecting parents
are given the opportunity to screen for variations.
During these procedures, intersex traits are often labelled ‘ge-
netic defects’ and prospective parents are subsequently given
the option to terminate the pregnancy. The organisation, Inter-
sex International Australia, reported in 2014 that 88% of preg-
nancies involving intersex traits in the embryo were terminated.
A likeness can be drawn between this and sex selection,
which is illegal in Australia, the UK and Canada. Ironically, as
health journalism organisation, Croakey, reports, PGD screening
is actually encouraged by clinics here and abroad.
The LGBTIQ community is the front-runner in allowing chil-
dren to develop diverselyand naturally. Therefore the ethical
implications of the screening and termination practices need
to be scrutinised. In the myriad medical controversies that are
debated regularly, there is always talk of ‘drawing the line’. So
why has there been no line drawn against eradicating these
variations that have little or no impact on the child’s quality of
life outside of social stigma?
Discrimination in assisted reproductive technologies isnot
restricted to intersex children. Medicare has jumped on the term
‘so cially infertile’, which more-or-less refers to a woman who is
unable to hook a ‘penis-having person’ and his sperm, due to
age or gender orientation. This group of ‘socially infertile’ (that
is the last time I will use the horrible term, I promise) people are
consequently not eligible for the Medicare rebate offered with
Assisted Reproductive Technologies. This adds approximately
$15 000 in upfront costs.
IN THE MEDICAL WORLD,
AS A DISABILITY
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