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The sacred tradition of cutting off bits

Doctors in Sweden and Denmark have recommended a ban on non-medical circumcision. Unfortunately they’re putting the age of consent at 12, which seems obviously too young, since minors are just that – they’re subject to their parents.

The recommendation is contained in a resolution approved by majority members of the Sweden Medical Association which covers about 85 per cent of doctors in Sweden.

Similarly, the Danish College of General Practitioners, which has 3,000 members, issued a statement that ritual circumcision of male children is equal to abuse and mutilation. About 87 per cent of Danish GPs favored the ban on non-medical circumcision.

Even prior to the recommendation of the two medical groups, the Child Rights International Network in a joint statement with the Nordic Ombudsmen for children and pediatric experts in September 2013 opined that circumcision without medical indication is in conflict with Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The article gives the child the right to express his or her views in all matters concerning him or her.

The statement also cited Article 24, point 3, which mandates protection of children against traditional practices that could be bad for their health.

It seems to be only a recommendation though, even though the headline says it’s a ban.

But there are those who view the recommendations as a mirror of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant outlook in Nordic nations.

Quoting Erik Ullenhag, the Swedish minister for integration, who said that current regulations would not be altered despite the recommendation, pointed out, “I have never met any adult man who experienced circumcision as an assault … The procedure is not very intensive and parents have the right to raise their children according to their faith and tradition.”

I wish people wouldn’t say things like that. I don’t think parents do have the the right to cut bits of their children off because that’s “according to their faith and tradition.” I think such rights should be limited to “within reason” and that genital mutilation isn’t within reason.

 

Comments

  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    Appropriate traditions: Eating blackeyed peas with collards and roast pork on New Year’s day. Tamales a couple of days after Christmas when the whole family can’t get together for Christmas, and all this when we are almost all atheists.

    Inappropriate traditions. Altering the genitals of people who can’t consent to fulfill the promises of magic stories that cannot be confirmed and doing so in the absence or any disease or deformity.

    BTW, I also think i’s wrong to mess with the genitals of intersex children too.

    Circumcision is a perfect case that illustrates why Leon Kass is full of shit as a bioethecist. There is no wisdom in repugnance. Repugnance can be shaped and conditioned by power.

  2. Shatterface says

    I’ve been told it prevents foreskin cancer – foreskin cancer being the number one cause of death among the uncircumcised.

  3. Andrew B. says

    I also find the implication that parents are the owners of their children and can do what they wish to them to be abhorrent. What about the right of the child not to have their bodies mutilated because of someone elses religion? This is nothing but religious privilege.

    And this whole thing about “I have never met any adult man who experienced circumcision as an assault” is rubbish. It doesn’t matter what their opinion is NOW, it matters that the decision was made FOR THEM before they had a chance to understand it.

  4. Shatterface says

    Quoting Erik Ullenhag, the Swedish minister for integration, who said that current regulations would not be altered despite the recommendation, pointed out, “I have never met any adult man who experienced circumcision as an assault …

    Except, of course, it isn’t generally adult men who get circumcised – and nobody is arguing about the right of consenting adults to what the hell they want with their willies.

  5. says

    Yeah, I hate that argument. Imagine being held down and having some piece of your flesh (say, a bit of your ear lobe) cut off without anesthetic. How is that anything other than assault? Why does doing it to infants somehow make it morally justifiable?

    Right, because religion.

  6. badgersdaughter says

    Didn’t they have to set it at 12 because bar mitzvahs are at 13? That’s the first thing that occurred to me, anyway.

  7. ajb47 says

    This is me saying I had the doctors cut off my son’s (extra) bits of skin. (Nine and half years ago.)

    And this is me admitting I was wrong. I can see now that my daughter’s pediatrician was trying to subtly warn us off, but at the time, she was too subtle. I am circumcised, because that was what was done at the time. I didn’t want my son to feel he had to ask why he was different than daddy. Ironically, he has had no need to ask since he learned to bathe and dress himself.

    There was no religious component to what I allowed to happen. It was purely an Argument from Tradition (though I’m not sure why it was done to me). And I went for it. And I have learned. Late, since I won’t be in the position to dictate that anymore, but I still learned I was wrong.

  8. says

    I’ve been told it prevents foreskin cancer – foreskin cancer being the number one cause of death among the uncircumcised.

    Utter rubbish. You will be able to provide a citation, of course? (If you meant this sarcastically, then forget it, but you perhaps need to improve your telltales.)

  9. J says

    “I have never met any adult man who experienced circumcision as an assault”

    How the fuck does he know that?

  10. latsot says

    Xanthë:I think that comment reeks of sarcasm. Perhaps you need to adjust your sarcasm detector.

    But there’s an important point: people are always claiming that circumcision has some sort of nebulous health benefit. My dad (a Christian) was circumcised sixty-odd years ago because in Britain at the time there was a crazy health fad and a generation of British kids were mutilated for that ‘reason’. I’ve seen lots of medical claims for circumcision, none – NONE – of which stand up to scrutiny and lots of completely made up medical claims for FGM too.

    Why do people do this? Why do they excuse this entirely odd and creepy practice, even when – as in my dad’s case – it isn’t ‘authorised’ by religion?

  11. Al Dente says

    When I was a baby sixty odd years ago* infant circumcision was the norm. A woman I know who’s approximately my age told me that she’d never had an uncircumcised male sexual partner. Fortunately routine circumcision seems to have fallen out of favor these days.

    *Some of those years were very odd.

  12. kevinalexander says

    Routine pointless surgeries. How many kids died of complications from the tonsillectomies of my generation? If you had the misfortune of being taken to the doctor with a sore throat and your parents had the $300 then you knew what the doctor would prescribe.

  13. sacharissa says

    From a biography of Nelson Mandela. In his culture the manhood ritual included circumcision. Afterwards the foreskin was cut off the boy would shout “I am a man”.

    “Mandela was tense and anxious, and when the assegai cut off his foreskin he remembered it as feeling like molten lead was flowing through his veins. He briefly forgot his words as he pressed his head to the grass, before he too shouted “I am a man”. But the was conscious that he was not naturally brave: “I was not as forthright and strong as the other boys”.

    That is the experience of a sixteen year old who wanted it done. Babies are regularly circumcised without anesthetic. They have no idea what is going on. They have all the pain and none of the context. They also don’t know that the pain will go away. No-one can write about the experience because no-one remembers that far back. Plenty of circumcised men say it did them no harm but how do they know?

  14. says

    Me too (British and sixty-six-and-three-quarters).
    If nothing else, it’s an odd thing to do, though I can’t say I’ve ever missed it.
    We definitely didn’t have it done to our kids.

  15. says

    Quoting Erik Ullenhag, the Swedish minister for integration, who said that current regulations would not be altered despite the recommendation, pointed out, “I have never met any adult man who experienced circumcision as an assault … The procedure is not very intensive and parents have the right to raise their children according to their faith and tradition.”

    I wonder, has he ever tried talking to a kid and asking them whether they’d like to get circumcised? I’m pretty damn sure that most kids would run to their mother, screaming about the weird man who wants to hurt them.

    The fact that circumcision is often done at such an early age that the adult retains no memory of it is hardly a reason to allow it. If a child is sexually abused, we punish the perpetrator. We don’t wait and see what the kid remembers, we stop the bastard now. Why is this any different?

    Oh right. Because children are property. I keep forgetting that. I have this crazy notion that children are human beings and deserve some rights of their own. Silly me.

  16. Guess Who? says

    Anecdata time: the spouse and I chose not to circumcise our son, even though his father was (as was typical in the USA at the time). The deal was that when he reached the age of 18, if he wanted it done, we would pay for it. Now that the lad is 18, we’ve asked him and he thinks we’re crazy. Cut off a piece of him that works just fine? WHY?!? BTW, he grew up playing sports and showering in locker rooms, and not once has any of his friends noticed he was not circumcised, nor does he have any idea if his male friends are.

  17. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    I’ve known a couple of people who were circumcized as adults, actually. IIRC, two for medical reasons, one religious. They all were quite up-front about two things: being very happy that it was done, and that it hurt like, well, very sensitive genital tissue was being removed, and the healing was about as much fun. And these are adults who freely chose it.

    The idea of placing the age of consent for it at 12 is pretty horrifing as well. (TMI ahead!) I’ve got multiple genital piercings, all freely chosen and life-improving, etc. And there are reasons that the minimum age for them where I am to be 18! Being an adult and able to give that kind of consent, and to have an adult fiddling around with your bits in even a not-necessarily permanent, addition sort of way is a big damn deal! It should not be okay to have a separate set of rules for removing stuff simply because of religious and cultural tradition.

  18. says

    BTW, he grew up playing sports and showering in locker rooms, and not once has any of his friends noticed he was not circumcised, nor does he have any idea if his male friends are.

    In my experience, there’s an unspoken protocol that you don’t look at another guy’s junk. It’s similar to the etiquette concerning urinals: Face forward, do your business and get out

    I’ve got multiple genital piercings, all freely chosen and life-improving, etc. And there are reasons that the minimum age for them where I am to be 18!

    And why would it be otherwise? Whether piercings or circumcision, we’re talking about medically unnecessary modifications. Obviously, it should be limited to adults. If a parent wanted to perform genital piercing on an infant, we’d call them crazy and irresponsible, and rightly so.

    I really don’t get why this is such a difficult concept for some people: Chopping bits off a child’s body for no medically valid reason is not a reasonable thing to do. If you’re willing to do that, it’s a purely cultural coincidence that you’re not binding their feet or throwing them in a fire for Moloch.

  19. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    Exactly, LykeX.

    “If a parent wanted to perform genital piercing on an infant, we’d call them crazy and irresponsible, and rightly so.”
    But cuuuuultuuure! Traditional! Etc.

  20. AnotherAnonymouse says

    @17; you go with your piercings! I’m fully in favor of an adult making body modification decisions for themselves. Contrariwise, I am not in favor of adults arbitrarily altering the genitals of children.

  21. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    20: My point exactly. All non-medically-necessary bodily alterations should be done with the full, enthusiastic consent of the person getting it. And there should be no excuses for anything less.

  22. Sili says

    I’m fairly sure parents aren’t allowed to get their children tattooed as it is. I don’t see why this is different.

    (Piercings are allowed with parental consent, though. Of course, those are eminently reversible.)

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