This article considers the responses of medicine and bioethics to intersex human rights demands as a matter of epistemic injustice:
Children with innate variations of sex characteristics (also termed differences of sex development or intersex traits) are routinely subjected to medical interventions that aim to make their bodies appear or function more typically female or male. Many such interventions lack clear evidence of benefit, they have been challenged for thirty years, and they are now understood to violate children’s rights to bodily autonomy and bodily integrity. In this paper I argue that these persist in part due to epistemic injustices and biomedical authority. Epistemic injustices include limited disclosure of current practices, the systemic marginalisation of community voices and psychosocial professionals, and attempts to discredit or misrepresent testimony. Bioethics has largely failed to change medical practice, and sometimes plays a role in perpetuating epistemic injustices. I find that the development of an intersex movement provides opportunities for epistemic justice and liberation by engaging with other disciplines and promoting oversight of medical decision- making. The paper draws particularly on Australian sources, including internationally influential ethical principles.
The article was submitted in response to a call for articles for a special issue on “Bodily Integrity and Bodily Autonomy in Pediatric Populations”, guest-edited by Brian Earp and Kate Goldie Townsend. The journal editor is Jonathan Lewis.
The typeset version of record can be found at: Carpenter, Morgan. 2023. ‘Fixing Bodies and Shaping Narratives: Epistemic Injustice and the Responses of Medicine and Bioethics to Intersex Human Rights Demands’. Clinical Ethics, 1– 15. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/14777509231180412.