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Eur J Pediatr. 2010 Jun;169(6):671-9. doi: 10.1007/s00431-009-1086-x. Epub 2009 Oct 20.

Ethical principles and recommendations for the medical management of differences of sex development (DSD)/intersex in children and adolescents.

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Department for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, Göttingen University, Humboldtallee 36, 37073 Göttingen, Germany.


The medical management of differences of sex development (DSD)/intersex in early childhood has been criticized by patients' advocates as well as bioethicists from an ethical point of view. Some call for a moratorium of any feminizing or masculinizing operations before the age of consent except for medical emergencies. No exhaustive ethical guidelines have been published until now. In particular, the role of the parents as legal representatives of the child is controversial. In the article, we develop, discuss, and present ethical principles and recommendations for the medical management of intersex/DSD in children and adolescents. We specify three basic ethical principles that have to be respected and substantiate them. The article includes a critical discussion of the best interest of the child and of family privacy. The argumentation draws upon recommendations by the working group "Bioethics and Intersex" within the German Network DSD/Intersex, which are presented in detail. Unlike other recommendations with regard to intersex, these guidelines represent a comprehensive view of the perspectives of clinicians, patients, and their families.


The working group identified three leading ethical principles that apply to DSD management: (1) to foster the well-being of the child and the future adult, (2) to uphold the rights of children and adolescents to participate in and/or self-determine decisions that affect them now or later, and (3) to respect the family and parent-child relationships. Nine recommendations for the management of DSD indicate how these ethical principles can spelled out and balanced against each other in the clinical setting.

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