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Circumcision – respectable religious ritual or bodily harm?

Earlier this year in June, a practitioner at a hospital in Germany had been prosecuted when complications occurred soon after the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy. The German court ruled that circumcisions without any medical necessity were to be classified as bodily harm, and as such illegal. The doctor in question was later cleared, as circumcisions in Germany had been undertaken for a very long time and in an “as-if-legal” manner, i.e. he couldn’t have been expected to know he was acting against the law.

All major political parties in Germany are now demanding a law that explicitly allows religious circumcision. However, the question if we as parents are allowed to disturb our children’s bodily integrity is out in the open.

For someone of moderate pick’n mix faith (I am a Christian with cherry-picked sprinkles of Buddhism, Judaism and a general openness for spirituality), ancient traditions can sometimes seem a little strange. As a mother, I am all against pricking and prodding my babies any more than strictly necessary. For example, I refused to accept the vitamin K shot babies get routinely after birth and instead opted for the oral version. Were I to have a baby boy, there’d be no way anyone would snip at his genitals without a strong medical necessity. However, considering myself a tolerant and open person, I don’t think something should be illegal, only because I am unable to comprehend it.

Soon after the court ruling, voices have been raised that equated circumcision to the genital mutilation of little girls. In my opinion, these two aren’t comparable. Genital mutilation alters integral body functions, whereas circumcision doesn’t.

I am not sure about this one. What do you think? Are we as parents entitled to decide or should we stay clear of any physical intervention that isn’t therapeutically necessary?

9 Comments

  1. i grew up in a muslim family and think it’s be very upsetting if suddenly it was forbidden. Think the chances of illegal procedures are more likely then and people are still going to look to get it done, maybe elsewhere and maybe by someone not competent enough. There are days where I wonder why you’d change something so naturally? But that’s besides the point, point is it should be an option. Perhaps only done by private doctors, or cost more?

  2. We decided not to circumcise our boys even though my husband is (born in the good old USA). We have no religious reasons to decide otherwise and to just chop off a piece of our newborn babies, for example so that “they would look like their father” seemed unneccesary. I agree that parents should be able to decide in some circumstances BUT – how about letting every child/person decide about their own bodies themselves i.e. when they’re older. In my book that applies to piercing baby girls’ ears as well…

  3. Strong meaty subject here, as a white, western european, athetist I obviously don’t do circumcision. That said, it seems another thing to knock other religions with, first it was banning the burqa and now this..

    At the end of the day, the Spanish pierce their daughter’s ears shortly after birth, is that any less painful, disrespectful?

    I don’t know the answer, but surely any change needs to come from the religious leaders and not bullying Western politicians.

  4. Circumcision is quite a thing here in the States whatever the religion. When my first son was born in 1995 the doctors all pressured me to have it done because he would be “different” from his friends etc. etc. When my 2nd son was born in 2003, the American Pediatric Association had issued a statement that there was no medical reason whatsoever for circumcising boys, and all pediatric doctors were made to explain this to patients. And lo, they have now discovered that the foreskin is there for a reason, – to protect against certain diseases. There’s a huge belief here that the foreskin harbours germs and is generally not clean – based on not a lot, it would seem.
    (In the interests of my sons’ privacy I won’t say what we did BTW.)

  5. Sarah Qayumi says

    It’s not like Muslims do it out of fun or just because it a looks nice. Circumcision is done for a reason. There are so many medical trials out there which support circumcision from a medical point of view. I have actually read just about a month a ago about a medical research at London King’s College, that tested the health if circumcised boys and men against the health of the ones that weren’t. They stopped their research before their deadline as they already had enough evidence to support circumcision.
    That from the medical point, as for the political point, i think now politician is allowed to stop people from practicing their religious beliefs.
    Girls Mutilation on the other hand is not mentioned in Islam and absolutely brutal. !!!!

  6. Alaya says

    Being a Muslim, two of my three sisters had their genitals cut (including me). Other than being helpfully clean while I wash myself vigorously, it is also a harmless ritual. Well, that actually depends on how much is cut. Usumesally itas only the tip, but someti

  7. it’s so interesting to read you on this because we’ve been discussing this lots since we are having a boy. the thing is, i think the swiss dr’s would look at us like we are crazy if we asked for a circumcision. just a feeling. i think it would have been assumed or normal in the US and maybe we wouldn’t have thought as much about it – but being in europe and the fact that most people i know here aren’t circumcized (we haven’t been shy about getting opinions!) i think we’re letting him go au natural :)

  8. jen says

    It’s still very common in the US–regardless of religion.

    We had it done for both our boys. Sugar water and they barely noticed it (my ob was a genius). Healed nicely right away.

    The concern with not having it done is keeping it clean…the cheese under the foreskin (gross) I know. There is an increased risk of stds with foreskin too. Of course- none of this is so statistically high that it warrants doing it.

    We did it to keep all of the men in the family the same. There also used to be a huge stigma for boys in the locker room in middle school and high school if they weren’t clipped. Lots of teasing since it used to be rare to be uncircumsized over here. That will no longer be the case as more and more parents opt not to do it. My OB told me her brother actually had it done in middle school (OUCH@@!!!!!!!!!!) because he was teased about it and it really bothered him.

  9. I’m against circumcision, you don’t cut bits off little girls so why should you cut bits off little boys, awful.

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