Disorders of sex development: current understanding and continuing controversy

Garry L Warne and Jacqueline K Hewitt
Med J Aust 2009; 190 (11): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb02586.x
Published online: 1 June 2009

One of the dilemmas in delaying sex-assignment surgery is the increased risk of gonadal malignancy

Few areas of medicine are as controversial as the management of disorders of sex development (DSD). The use of the term DSD to describe patients born with ambiguous genitalia has undergone major change from older terms with negative connotations, such as “intersex”, “testicular feminisation” and “hermaphroditism”.1 Meanwhile, international debate continues about the ethics of performing genital surgery on affected infants and children. In fact, the debate has been raging for more than a decade between the medical profession and patient advocacy groups in Western countries, and has been documented by anthropologist Katrina Karkazis in a recent book.2 A long-term outcome study of 50 patients aged 18–32 years who had been treated in Melbourne when they were children showed that mental and physical health outcomes were as good for most of the DSD patients as for those in two control groups; however, there was a small minority of patients whose gender identity as adults was a source of such profound discomfort that they felt compelled to undergo treatment to change it.3 Clearly, this is unsatisfactory, and management practices have been reviewed internationally by clinicians looking for ways of minimising the risk of making such mistakes about gender assignment.

  • Garry L Warne1
  • Jacqueline K Hewitt2

  • Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, VIC.



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