Faults newspaper report, says such operations not medically possible

After meeting with doctors, patients and Hindustan Times journalist in Indore, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has come out with its verdict on the newspaper's report on sex-change surgeries on babies: “No such surgeries have been performed.”

In an indictment of HT's front page report dated June 26 which claimed that Indore doctors were changing baby girls into boys by the hundreds, the NCPCR team found that such surgeries are not medically possible, either in Indore, or anywhere else. It discovered that the reporter, who claimed the story was based on telephonic interviews with two Indore doctors, had no corroborative evidence to back up her article.

Last week, The Hindu had arrived at the same conclusion in an investigation which found that HT's coverage included “an alarmist and misleading headline, some glaring errors, and the sheer absence of any hard facts.”

The NCPCR team, which included two members of the Commission, a senior paediatric surgeon from AIIMS, a retired head of the anatomy and genetics department of AIIMS, and a medico-legal expert, met with State government officials and HT reporter Amritha Kadam in Indore on July 1.

“[Ms. Kadam] stated that the news report was a result of her verbal interaction with some of the leading paediatric surgeons of Indore,” says the NCPCR report, released on Tuesday. “When asked to produce corroborative evidence to the story published, she referred to the notes scribbled on her rough sheet based on her verbal conversation she had over telephone with two leading paediatric surgeons of Indore Dr. Milind Joshi and Dr. Manish Patel. She also submitted a handwritten Educational Note reportedly given by Dr. Milind Joshi depicting certain forms of disorders of sexual differentiation. This handwritten note seemed to be the only educational write-up available with the Correspondent which did not substantiate the story published in the paper.”

The Hindu had also found that “the newspaper seems not to have done any basic research.” Our investigation had pointed out that the reporter had no case studies or records to back up her claims. Neither she nor her editorial desk had bothered to verify the description of genitoplasty, a legitimate surgical procedure to correct congenital abnormalities of the genitalia, with any independent experts or medical literature.

The NCPCR team also visited Indore hospitals and spoke to doctors and surgeons – who condemned the “amateurish journalism” – as well as technical staff, pharmacists, nurses and ward boys. It collected operation theatre records, case files, pharmacy records – to check the supply of testosterone – and chromosomal studies, but found absolutely no evidence for the HT story. After a visit to two families whose children had undergone genitoplasty, it found no irregularities, and also discovered that the cost of the surgery had been within Rs. 25,000. HT had claimed the operation cost Rs. 1.5 lakh.

Set of protocols

In an indictment of HT's editorial review process, the NCPCR has recommended that “the print media should have a set of protocols in publishing such sensitive stories and should undertake internal verification before making them public so as to avoid any kind of sensation.”

It also recommended that the Indian Council of Medical Research should work with other apex bodies to develop a framework for holistic management of sex development disorders which have significant social, psychological and scientific implications.

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