Lack of informed consent: newborn male circumcision vs female genital mutilation

29 Aug

Back in late June, I read this article about how a court in a region of Germany banned involuntary circumcision of young boys for religious reasons (meaning, if I got it right, that it’s still legal for medical reasons, as well as when boys decide they want it). As one might imagine, this created a bit of an uproar from both the Jewish and the Muslim communities, given male circumcision is a requirement of both religions.

Now, since I really can’t abide organized religion of any stripe, that aspect of the story didn’t bother or faze me. I don’t see it as interference on the child‘s freedom of religion. A newborn has no religious beliefs, after all, let alone the ability to consent to abide by his parents’.

What got me is that I realized that I sort of take it for granted that boys should be circumcised as close to birth as possible¹, and I never even considered that it’s often done out of the parents’ religious beliefs and without the patient’s consent.

However, the mere thought of female genital mutilation–which is done to girls too young and/or too ignorant of the lifelong consequences to consent, and done to them in the name of their parents’ belief system and/or society’s expectations–is enough to enrage me almost to the point of incoherence.

(And please don’t get me started on the anti-male circumcision groups calling it “genital mutilation”–talk about lack of perspective: see a graphic if succinct description of Type III FGM here.)

Why is my reaction so different, when in both cases the subjects are denied the right to consent to a surgery that changes their bodies and could potentially affect their sexuality?

I mean, beyond the fact that circumcision does not damage the individual², interferes with his enjoyment of sex, daily life or even influences his health negatively–all of which are pretty much a given with female genital mutilation.


Oh and by the way? In the weeks since I started pondering this, the American Academy of Pediatrics has spoken on the issue: benefits outweigh the risks in the majority of cases.

(E)vidence shows circumcision rarely causes complications and can also reduce medical costs.

How does circumcision prevent infections? The foreskin of the penis, which is removed during the procedure, is loaded with immune system cells that are easily infected by viruses such as HIV and herpes. Bacteria can collect under the foreskin, causing infections in both males and their sex partners.

(Which anyone following the AIDS crisis in Africa could have told you a while back too, by the way)

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

¹ I was in fact very much taken aback when my ex–who was uncut at the time–was opposed to having our firstborn circumcised, with the full support of the pediatrician. I was beyond angry³ when, five years later, the poor kid had to be circumcised–under full anesthesia, thank you very much–for medical reasons. What could have been a few stitches on a newborn who would not have remembered the event, became over two years of pain and other issues, culminating on actual surgery complicated by a negative reaction to the anesthesia.

² Except in very rare cases–see above note and here, under complications.

³ This is one of the few things I’ll never forgive my ex for, by the way.


One Response to “Lack of informed consent: newborn male circumcision vs female genital mutilation”

  1. Lori 29/08/2012 at 9:20 AM #

    As a non-practicing but highly identified Jew (heh) I have to admit that circumcision to me is natural and something I believe parents have a right to do to newborn boys. And we’ve always known there were health benefits and almost no draw-backs.

    Female circumcision is a completely different thing. To compare the two is repugnant.

    But I’ve never really given it any thought. Now you’re forcing me to. Damn you AL!

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