Consent to child’s mutilation or go to jail


A woman who went on the lam with her four-year-old son to prevent him from being genitally mutilated at the behest of his father was arrested and imprisoned last Thursday and is now in federal court.

Heather Hironimus, 31, was arrested Thursday in the long-running dispute over the removal of her 4-year-old child’s foreskin. She went missing with the boy nearly three months ago and ignored a judge’s warnings that if she didn’t appear in court and give consent for the circumcision to proceed, she faced jail.

The case originated in state courts but will be heard in a federal courtroom Monday in West Palm Beach. An attorney for Hironimus filed a federal civil rights complaint as legal options faded.

The parents had “signed an agreement” but Hironomus changed her mind.

Hironimus, 31, went missing with her son after a judge compelled her to turn the child over to his father, Dennis Nebus, and have him undergo the procedure. The child is reportedly “scared to death” of being circumcised. The couple were never married but had signed a parenting agreement in court in which Hironimus had initially agreed to their son being circumcised. However, she later changed her mind, setting off a drawn-out court battle with Nebus.

In March, a Palm Beach County judge signed a warrant for Hironimus’ arrest after she missed a court appearance. The mother subsequently filed a civil rights lawsuit last month arguing that circumcision violated her son’s Christian faith. While circumcision is largely a matter of personal preference rather than religion for many Christian parents in the United States, Hironimus’s case cited specific passages of the New Testament as well as Catholic teachings that read, “except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.”

Ugh. I wish all parties would argue the case in secular terms, because otherwise you just get dueling arbitrary commandments, which is what it says on the tin – arbitrary. It should be a human rights issue, not a competing-religions issue.

The case has generated national attention, largely fueled by the growing “intactivist” movement, which argues that subjecting infant boys to the procedure is barbaric and that it is unethical for parents to make the decision for their children. Many of these activists have rallied behind Hironmius’ cause, framing the case as a human rights issue.

But she is apparently not framing it that way, which makes it tricky.

Bottom line? All parties should respect the rights of the four-year-old boy and leave his penis alone until he’s old enough to decide for himself.

No “bottom line” jokes. Just kidding; you would never do that.

Comments

  1. Pieter B, FCD says

    Threads about circumcision have a tendency to go off the rails. Whenever I’ve said that male circumcision is a violation of bodily autonomy in the same ethical category as FGM, the relative privation fallacy comes galloping in. For the record, I feel the same way about piercing a baby’s ears.

    Leave a child’s genitals alone; period, end of story.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    This is a ‘dear Muslima’ issue for Americans. Ranking wrongs is of no use if one doesn’t have an INITIAL threshold of revulsion. Cutting off pieces of children for ‘tradition’ or parental belief is a fundamental wrong. Whether its a ‘routine procedure’ in a hospital, or an assault with rusty razor-blades in a mud hut.

  3. John Horstman says

    Ugh. I wish all parties would argue the case in secular terms, because otherwise you just get dueling arbitrary commandments, which is what it says on the tin – arbitrary. It should be a human rights issue, not a competing-religions issue.

    Agreed; on the other hand, especially in light of Hobby Lobby, this is a tactically sound approach, since apparently religious proscriptions trump secular prescriptions, and in the case of competing Christian religious values, I hope the judge may simply defer to the only person whose opinion should matter in the first place – the child who doesn’t want to have his genitals sliced.

  4. MadHatter says

    Yes. On the one hand, most FGM is much worse; on the other hand, so what, both are completely unjustifiable and wrong.

    Absolutely, it bugs me to see them compared. But it’s still wrong.

  5. Darren Kirwan says

    “Absolutely, it bugs me to see them compared. But it’s still wrong.”

    MadHatter, there’s nothing wrong to compare two vastly similar – but practically mismatched procedures that take place for a variety of reasons. It’s intellectually lazy to lay down and avoid understanding similarities that occur between the two issues.

    Unless you’re comparing them out of spite – spite spattered with illogical fallacies, it’s in the interest of the skeptic mind to see through the what, where, why and how of male and female genital cutting. What you find IS that they ARE vastly similar.

    Take EVERYTHING into account.

  6. Lady Mondegreen says

    Whenever I’ve said that male circumcision is a violation of bodily autonomy in the same ethical category as FGM, the relative privation fallacy comes galloping in.

    It used to be (and still may be in some quarters) that threads about FGM would get hijacked by MRAs playing “but what about the men?” and making false equivalencies. It’s important to fight that. But in a thread that’s about MGM, like this one, there’s no need for that–and doing a “Dear Muslima” about FGM would be out of bounds!

    Poor little kid.

    It would be great if this case brought attention to childrens’ right to not be mutilated. But with the tack the mother’s taking, it probably won’t. :(

  7. Tsu Nimh says

    I wish all parties would argue the case in secular terms

    OK, here’s an applicable secular term: Phimosis

    The child has it to such a degree that a pediatric urologist said that a surgical fix was needed.
    the child is probably in pain and there is a risk of infection (can be penis-threatening abcesses)
    the phimosis is FIXABLE (and can be done under local or total anaesthesia)
    the pain will go away quickly after the surgery

    How about you stop using emotionally and politically loaded terms like “genital mutilation” and start using “surgical correction”

  8. Saad says

    Tsu Himh, #9

    Do you have a source that says Chase has phimosis and requires surgery?

    What I’ve seen so far from several articles is that the father thinks circumcision is “just the normal thing to do” and says a pediatrician said the child has phimosis. A urologist afterwards said he does not:

    The father said he noticed his son was urinating on his leg and took him to his pediatrician, who diagnosed Chase with a condition called phimosis, referring the boy to a pediatric urologist, Eaton wrote. This condition prevents retraction of the foreskin, covering the tip of the penis.

    Hironimus, however, took her son back to the doctor, who wasn’t able “to actually show” the phimosis, Sinatra wrote in a court brief.

    Moreover, the urologist, Dr. Charles Flack, at one hearing told Judge Gillen that Chase didn’t have phimosis, and the circumcision wasn’t medically necessary.

    “It’s the parents’ choice,” Flack testified.

    And this one:

    During the hearing last year, Pediatric Urologist Charles Flack testified that the procedure would only last 17 minutes and patients have few recovery problems. He also testified that it is medically acceptable to circumcise boys up until the age of 10-years-old. He stated that, for boys older than 10-years-old, it can be problematic because an erection can cause tears in sutures. Dr. Flack also testified that the procedure was not medically necessary for the child any longer.

    And yes, the father’s creepy desire to have it done IS genital mutilation. He says it’s just the “normal thing to do”.

  9. Saad says

    Shoot, just noticed I didn’t spell your username correctly, Tsu Nimh. Sorry about that.

  10. Pieter B, FCD says

    An article from a year ago said that a pediatrician testifying for the father said that circumcision would decrease the boy’s risk of contracting penile cancer and HIV. This is technically true, but the risks are so small that the AAP has stated that the “health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns.”

  11. Darren Kirwan says

    OK, here’s an applicable secular term: Phimosis
    The child has it to such a degree that a pediatric urologist said that a surgical fix was needed.
    the child is probably in pain and there is a risk of infection (can be penis-threatening abcesses)
    the phimosis is FIXABLE (and can be done under local or total anaesthesia)
    the pain will go away quickly after the surgery
    How about you stop using emotionally and politically loaded terms like “genital mutilation” and start using “surgical correction”

    Tsu Nimh, the child was said to have been examined for not having severe phimosis. In most cases, having phimosis at his age would be normal. Realistically, the child would not be in pain; all said and considered. Kids are capable of complaining about discomfort and I’m sure if what you said was true – the father would most definitely use this against the mother in this case. So far he has only claimed necessity out of that one instance where Chase urinated oddly down his leg. You can’t use that trivial observance as a reason for a full on procedure.

    Phimosis is fixable through other means and if you bothered to educate yourself about said issue, you’d know that. Instead you chose to use a rather condescending tone to talk down on another poster.

    If your name suggests anything, you’re not very loaded on the knowledge of how having a foreskin actually feels. I don’t know if I read that last line correctly, but did you just imply that every foreskin needs to be “corrected”? I hope you don’t go there…

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