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Ban On Mutilation A Bad Thing?

A court in Cologne has recently ruled that circumcising boys for purely religious reasons is an assault and violation of that child’s (that person’s) right to self determination and control over what happens to their own body.

The response from the religious groups that practice this has been predictably savage. The Jewish groups in Germany have been making comparisons to the holocaust; a subject understandably of extreme sensitivity in Germany.

In contrast medical and secular groups have welcomed the ruling.

The head of the UK secular medical council, in an open letter (PDF) to Chancellor Merkel has said:

Despite calls for condemnation of the ruling, especially from Jewish and Muslim organisations, we, and the Royal Dutch Medical Association believe the practice to be potentially harmful. More importantly, this ruling correctly places the welfare of vulnerable children above the unrestrained expression of adult beliefs.

Not all Jews are opposed to this (from Reuters):

“The majority of the world does not circumcise because of an instinctive awareness of the harm, analogous to cutting off any other healthy body part,” it said in a statement entitled “The German Circumcision Ruling: What about the harm to the child?”

“It” in this case being U.S.-based Jewish Circumcision Resource Centre.

Yet,  according to Merkel though, it “makes Germany a laughing stock”.

I disagree, it makes Germany a leader.

As someone who, as an adult, has been circumcised for purely medical reasons I can speak from a level of experience that is denied all those boys of religious parents. It’s painful (very) and while I can confirm that there’s no impairment and that I can function perfectly well without my foreskin, there is a difference and it’s one that I notice.

There are perfectly valid medical reasons for doing a circumcision, for example Phimosis or, in those countries where AIDS is rampant, to reduce chances of infection.

If a new religious group were to come about, and as part of it’s rituals, just as circumcision is part of Jewish ritual, they required all infants to have an ear cut off, would  we object?

I’d like to think that most people would disagree. You don’t need your ears, you can function perfectly well without them. There will be a slight decrease in functionality, but no more so than for a circumcision. Of course there might be some more cosmetic issues, but just as circumcision is out of sight in your pants, your missing ear can be hidden by long hair; and why not wear it with pride as it’s the symbol of your faith?

You’re not allowed to beat your child, to cause it physical harm, even if (like infant circumcision) they won’t remember the pain when they are older. Unlike a beating, where the black eyes heal and the broken arms mend, circumcision is permanent. Why is it that society objects (strongly) to parents beating their children even just once, but yet has no objection to circumcising them? If you did to an adult, without his consent, what Jewish parents do to their infant boys, without their consent, they’d be looking at assault charges and prison sentences.

If you have trouble seeing that comparison (and I’m disappointed if you don’t see it), then consider that there is a reason most parents don’t allow their kids to get tattoos, earrings and piercings until they reach a certain age; if I remember correctly my sister was somewhere around 10 before she was allowed to have her ears pierced. These are changes that permanently affect their body and they are decisions that need to be made with care and conscious choice. Why can’t we just let religious circumcision join that group?

Judaism already has it’s coming of age ceremony for boys, the Bar Mitzvah, generally at age 13. Why not make circumcision a part of that? He can do his reading from the Torah, have his party, then get circumcised to show his allegiance to his faith. Wouldn’t that make it more meaningful as well, a conscious choice to join the faith, instead of being forced into it at birth without a choice?

It seems that at least one German paediatrician seems to think this is the better approach. Circumcision has always been an ethical problem for conscientious doctors who are required, by their Hippocratic oath to, “first do no harm”.

For me it’s a simple case of justice. There is no justice in imposing your views, especially forcefully as with an operation, on those who are incapable of defending themselves and raising objections. Given their claim to be the moral champions of society, I find it rather ironic that it’s the religious groups that are fighting to retain the rights to what is fundamentally a highly immoral ritual.

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