Wednesday, June 8, 2011

circumcision and other medical decisions

The Washington Post has an interesting set of opinion pieces about San Francisco's upcoming ballot initiative to ban circumcision. The opposing arguments can basically be summed up as follows:
1. Banning circumcision is blatant anti-Semitism. Oh, and it's also anti-Muslim.
2. Banning circumcision violates the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
1. The infant is not able to give consent to circumcision.
2. The practice has no benefit and is comparable to female genital mutilation.

My thoughts: First of all, anyone who thinks circumcision is comparable to FGM doesn't really know much about either practice. Circumcision occurs in sterile conditions, is practiced by professionals, performed within a month of birth, involves removing a small piece of skin, and does not result in permanent damage (of course there is always an exception). FGM occurs in all kinds of conditions, sterile and filthy, is practiced by a random assortment of people licensed and unlicensed, performed at puberty without anesthesia, involves direct removal of portions of the clitoris and minor labia, and very often results in permanent damage. In addition, at least 2 types of FGM require further "surgery" to allow for sex and childbirth, when the sutured major labia are cut open with a knife to allow vaginal access. No circumcised male EVER needs further surgery to have sex. The ONLY similarity between circumcision and FGM is that the end result is surgically modified genitals.

My second thought is about vaccinations. People are allowed to refuse vaccinations for their children. This refusal is a public health threat and can be disastrous for the child's health. (Just check on the long term effects of measles, mumps and rubella). Further, this refusal is not based on any religious grounds - it's based, in large part, on a set of studies that have been proven false. One could easily argue that the decision to vaccinate has a much greater impact on a child and on public health than the decision to circumcise. So why is the religious decision to circumcise being persecuted if the decision to avoid vaccinations completely is protected?

What are your thoughts? Is circumcision a valuable religious practice or an outdated ritual that needlessly mutilates the penis? Why should it be banned, or not banned? What about infant ear piercing? Is it comparable? After all, it's an unnecessary procedure done without the infant's consent that isn't reversible...


  1. This was something I debated myself when I found out I was going to have a boy. I did find studies that showed the circumsized male was less likely to get an infection or STD. Ultimately I left it up to his dad, who agreed with the studies and wanted him to look like him. I don't have strong feelings one way or another about what the right choice would be. However, I do think it was our family's choice to make. Allowing it to wait until my son was old enough to decide for himself WOULD be cruel and comparable to FGM. In this case, we had to make the decision for him. I don't think the government has a right to decide that for him.


  2. Rebecca, That's a great point about how a ban would essentially mean that the government is deciding for the child. And yes, if the procedure was deferred it would be much more comparable to FGM.
    And it makes stronger in my mind the question: if circumcision should be banned, what about ear piercing? And if ear piercing, at what point does the government STOP legislating?

  3. I don't think the gov't. has the right to make these decisions (male circumcision or ear piercing) for the child or the parent. By doing so, we are saying that we don't trust the parents to make sound, safe decisions for their child AND reducing both our liberty and responsibility. I have a 2 year old boy and we decided not to circumcise him because the statistics for health concerns were only slightly in favor of circumcision, but all preventable by good hygiene, which my husband agreed to teach our son, even though they will look different. This tide is changing and I'm confident that my son will not be the only un-circumsized boy in the middle school locker room. Infant ear piercing I have disagreed with since I saw it happen in a mall as a teen. That poor crying girl had no choice for a purely image-oriented piercing. That should be her decision. Many girls will get it done if they want it badly enough; women have endured pain for "beauty" for thousands of years in hundreds of cultures. Look at tattoos, nose/belly piercing, Botox, etc.