Monday, July 9, 2012

German Court Bans Male Circumcision on Infants

Source: TIME
A week or two ago, a German court banned male circumcision on infants in the city of Cologne. Many are upset, claiming that the ruling is grounded in antisemitism or anti-Muslim (probably anti-Turkish) sentiments and that the ruling violates religious freedom. While the ruling is political, I don't think it violates religious freedom and hope that the ruling encourages others - especially Americans - to think more critically about male circumcision.

In a pluralistic society, it is critical that we respect the religious beliefs of others and allow others to practice their religion as they see fit. But being able to practice one's own religion does not allow you to force your religion on others (I've written about this re: the contraception mandate), even on your children. And your right to religious freedom does not allow you to inflict bodily injury or cause physical harm to another.

In the West, circumcision is primarily performed on infants, who are unable to consent to the procedure. It is generally performed for non-medical reasons, primarily because of religious beliefs or (especially in the United States) for cosmetic purposes. The procedure is incredibly painful, permanent, affects the child for the rest of his life, can dull sexual sensation, and can lead to bleeding and infection. Recently, for example, in NYC, 11 babies contracted herpes through a (rare) circumcision ritual; 2 of them developed brain damage and 2 died.

As a feminist, I believe in bodily autonomy. I think no parent should have the right to cut off a part of their son's penis without their son's permission. If a boy is of an age where he can consent and decides to get circumcised, then that should be allowed. But infant circumcision allows for a non-medically necessary, permanent surgery to be performed on a child without his consent. Moreover, as much as banning male circumcision can be said to be politically motivated, racist, or to violate a group's religious freedom, allowing for a religious exemption belies another form of racism, cultural imperialism, and the West's own religious hierarchy. US federal law, for example, currently “makes criminal any non-medical procedure performed on the genitals [of a girl].” There is no religious exemption, and few people protest that this violates religious freedom. Few protest the banning of female circumcision in Western countries or in Africa and the Middle East and it is popularly condemned as barbaric and misogynistic. Moreover, when the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that doctors could perform a ceremonial pinprick or "nick" a girl's genitals to prevent them from receiving a full circumcision overseas, the move was met with outrage from the feminist community. So why is it ok to do more than "nick" a boy's genitals - even for religious or cultural reasons? Cologne's ban on infant circumcision doesn't violate the parent's rights; it preserves the boy's.

11 comments:

  1. It is my religion's deeply held sacred belief that God instructed us to slice off the right ear of every child. Who are you to question my religion? I'm offended.

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  2. Not to say that either of them are okay or not okay, I would just like some clarification: You believe that, up to the point when the baby (thing, it, cells, embryo) leaves the womb (or just the woman's body to be more clear) it is permissible to terminate it, but as soon as it leaves the mother''s body it is a moral travesty to remove the foreskin for cosmetic/medical/religous reasoning. I understand when you stand for something but consistency in the feminist movement would be appreciated!

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  3. My position on infant genital cutting and abortion are completely consistent. I believe in bodily autonomy. That means that I get to make decisions about what happens to my body (including re: contraception and abortion). Similarly, I think that a child should be able to make a decision about whether or not they want their foreskin cut off of their genitals, and that parents don't have the right to alter the genitals of a child for cosmetic or religious reasons.

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  4. That is fair. Just so I can be completely clarified, what is you definition for bodily autonomy in terms of child birth. I agree ultimately is should come down to the mother (she is the one having the baby) but it is not exactly black and white. Is it when the umbilical chord becomes detached?

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  5. What a clear and brilliantly logic statement. I just wished the people in my country could find the strength to a logic assessment. It is indeed just that easy: religious freedom means that the boy can decide about the circumcision, and not his parents.

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  6. The first comment on here is so well put: I just don't see the consistency in your thought process. It is ok to kill a child in the womb but infants shouldn't be circumcised because it somehow violates their rights over their body? I just don't get how this child doesn't have rights when it is still a fetus... Just because it is within a woman's body doesn't make it PART of her body (like her arm or leg or something, it's another life growing inside of her temporarily) and therefore takes away any claims to "bodily autonomy".

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  7. It's fair to ban. My husband was born in Germany and his parents decided not to have him circumsized. Why? Because the people performing the procedure in the area weren't skilled and had actually killed their (husband's parents') friends' son.

    He's glad they didn't have his penis cut.

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  8. Based on randomized controlled trials, the WHO has stated that "male circumcision is an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention."

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumcision_and_HIV

    or from the WHO itself: http://www.who.int/hiv/topics/malecircumcision/en/

    I'm for bodily autonomy, but I'm for public health more.

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    1. Aids doesn't come from being intact, it comes from having sex with an aids infected person. Female genital mutilation would help just as much for aids prevention. That study was proven to be faked too by the way

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  9. FYI, this court ruling led to a legislation update (Oct 2012) and circumcision is officially allowed in Germany. Bummer...
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19894109

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    1. Thanks for this comment! I haven't posted an update on this issue, and I'm glad you've provided a helpful link.

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