Circumcision (the removal of some or all of the foreskin of a male’s penis) made headlines again in Cologne, Germany this week where a court ruled it illegal to circumcise an infant for religious reasons regardless of parental consent. This new law was apparently brought on by the case of a doctor in a lower court whose circumcision on a four year old boy led to complications and bleeding. Since the doctor had the parents consent – he was acquitted just before this law came into effect.
The new law has sent the Jewish and Muslim community into a tailspin – who fear that this law will make it’s way into other German states, single handedly taking away not only their right to religious freedom, but their rights as parents to make decisions for their children.
The court made the ruling based on the fact that a child’s body is “irreparably changed” by circumcision and that the change is in direct controversy with the child’s right to “decide later about his own religious affiliation.” and “The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised if they were required to wait until the child could decide to be circumcised.” and went on to say that it constituted “bodily harm” and should be classified as “assault” punishing any doctor who performs it. While the court may indeed have the best interest of the child at heart, I shudder to think of the repercussions we will be seeing in Germany as doctors refuse to do this procedure for fear of imprisonment, and families takes matters into their own hands. Believing that because of a law is passed it will change the behaviors of deeply faithful religious groups is foolish to say the least.
Whether you believe in circumcision or not - it is hard to ignore the fact that this law has come into effect in a country that has a complicated and painful history with those of “different” faiths. Namely Jews, who have been practicing circumcision for four thousand years in accordance with the book of Genesis that deems circumcision prescribed by God. Muslims also have the tradition of Khitan, that dates back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad, who circumcised all his grandsons on the seventh day of their birth.
Millions of parents in the West routinely circumcise their boys a few days after birth for hygiene and health purposes as well as family tradition. The World Health Organization is running a huge campaign in Africa to circumcise all males who live in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. In this impoverished country AIDS/HIV claims 70% of all new adult cases and 91% of all new children’s cases worldwide. 1.8 million people died globally of AIDS and HIV related illness in 2010.
Besides the drop in HIV infection risk (and yeah, we know – wear a rubber and make it 100%) circumcision has been proven by epidemiology to decrease a man’s risk for prostate cancer, urinary tract infections, and a host of other infections as well as reduce the chances of his partner (if she is female) from exposure infections and some cancers as well. So what’s the problem?
For starters, very few pediatric organizations will take a firm stand on circumcision, preferring to leave this sensitive subject up to the parents to decide. Although the American Association of Pediatrics is said to be reviewing and updating it’s policy due to the new evidence regarding HIV and other infection. There has also been an upsurge in the past decade of men coming out that being circumcised has scarred them physically as well as emotionally. Claiming that erectile dysfunction, loss of sensitivity and fear of building a trusting relationship, all came from that brief moment with a doctor and a scalpel at a few days old. A study (short and without enough subjects) was run by the APA – and while they did find that circumcised men had some loss of sensitivity in the penis due to circumcision (when compared to uncircumcised men) they also found that these subjects were more “sexually varied” than their uncircumcised peers. They found no proof of psychological damage. The average male gets an erection about fifty times a day (and this is after years of being able to control it so he is not easily embarrassed in public) and the male culture is dominated by sex, talking about it, getting it, wondering when they are going to get it, etc. and in a sexually driven country like the United States (where over 70% of men are circumcised) – is the complaint of decrease of sexual pleasure is truly a valid argument? Some anti-circumcision men even liken it to the genital mutilation that is practiced in multiple countries in Africa. This is a bit extreme, since this barbaric form of cutting (of the clitoris) comes at great cost to the young girls health and causes the complete loss of sexual desire (as is it’s purpose). Please see: Female Circumcision: Man, Myths and Mutilation by, Midnite Writer for more on this subject.
Considering Germany’s lack of respect for the individual in regards to religious freedom combined with an extraordinary influx of Muslim immigrants in the past few years (to Germany’s dismay) and their complicated history with the Jewish population and the fact that Cologne has one of the largest growing populations of Jews- it’s hard not to wonder if this ruling is motivated by bigotry. It should be pointed out that Germany does not recognize Islam as a religion and has extreme rules on how religion is represented in the country. They do not allow public school teachers to wear Muslim head coverings, feeling it infringes on the right of the parent to raise their child without neutrality. Oddly Germany finds itself driven to teach religion in public schools. The teachers are paid by the state- but must answer to the church for the course they are teaching. While some schools are able to teach Jewish religious studies, it is not all-due to the fact that the religious leaders cannot supply the training and materials like the large Protestant and Catholic churches can. Islam is absent as a choice despite the over 4 million practicing Muslims who live there. Children are separated into three groups Catholic, Protestant and Ethics (if they do not want the religious study, they can enroll in an Ethics course). It makes you wonder about the motivation for the law. Less of “bodily harm” perhaps and more of “parents raising their children in their own beliefs” seems to be on trial here.
Whether you feel circumcision is preventative (like a vaccine), a religious right, or not necessary at all - the German Court’s ruling is questionable at best- but it raises an important question: With whom does this important decision lie? Parent, child or court?