In organizing this online discourse, the German Ethics Council has for the first time used a freely accessible, digital means of transparent, participative communication to permit dialogue between intersex individuals themselves on the one hand and academics and professionals on the other, thereby enabling a wider public to engage with the extraordinarily complex issues raised by intersexuality.
From the beginning of June intersex individuals, academics and professionals working in a variety of disciplines, as well as members of the German Ethics Council, vigorously debated the current situation of intersex people in Germany. The participants discussed a range of different aspects, each from his or her individual perspective, and the discourse as a whole involved a total of 50 specialist contributions, including eleven video interviews, and over 700 comments. With over 34 000 page views, it is clear that the project has aroused enormous interest not only in Germany but also in other countries, such as Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and the United States.
A first glance at the numerous contributions received shows that the largest number of comments concerned the aspect of medical interventions. Issues of civil status legislation were likely to be the subject of particular controversy.
In the view of Michael Wunder, a member of the Ethics Council and spokesperson for the Council’s internal working group on intersexuality, the online discourse will be extremely valuable for the continued work of the Council: “Important and interesting perspectives were contributed to the debate and will be incorporated in our forthcoming Opinion.” Dr Wunder rated the general culture of the debate favourably: “The submissions were on the whole highly relevant and addressed specific aspects of the problem; some did not mince their words, and others were very personal, but it’s all grist to the mill and not in any way detrimental.”
The Ethics Council will evaluate the online discourse in detail during the course of the next few weeks. The results of the complete three-stage process – obtaining the views of intersex people and of academics and professionals from a variety of relevant disciplines; the hearing of 8 June 2011; and the online discourse – will constitute valuable input for the Ethics Council’s ongoing deliberations on the subject of intersexuality.