SMF asks Miliband to rethink his support for ritual genital cutting

A press release from the Secular Medical Forum:

On 7 March Ed Miliband told an audience in London that he supports ritual genital cutting of children.  In reference to circumcision and kosher food the leader of the Labour party said:  ‘These are important traditions … ways of life must be preserved’.  The Secular Medical Forum condemns this announcement and asks Mr Miliband to rethink his support for ritual genital cutting.

It is a Jewish tradition to remove the prepuce (foreskin) of baby boys when they are eight days old.  This operation disregards autonomy and exposes the child to significant risks, including bleeding, infection and death.  The Secular Medical Forum questions why Mr Miliband supports ritual circumcision given that it is ethically flawed and medically dangerous. Ironically, the meeting was held at the Royal College of Surgeons, a respected organisation that educates surgeons in the ethics and practice of surgery. The first principle of healthcare is ‘primum non nocere – first do no harm’.  This guidance is disregarded by supporters of ritual circumcision.  The meeting was arranged by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the senior representative body of Jewish people in the United Kingdom.

The Vice-President of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, debated the controversy of circumcision with the chair of the Secular Medical Forum, Antony Lempert, on 28 February. Mr Arkush astonished the audience by refusing to protect babies from metzizah b’peh, the tradition in which the Jewish circumciser sucks the infant’s cut penis.  Mr Arkush, a barrister, disapproved of oral-genital contact between an adult and a child but refused to call for a ban upon this tradition saying: “I’m not in favour of banning things”.  The full debate is available here.  The Secular Medical Forum would like to ask Mr Miliband if he is aware that metzizah b’peh takes place in the UK and whether it should be banned so that children are protected from the harms of this tradition.

Mr Miliband, quite rightly, told the Board of Deputies that he was against anti-semitism, which is the hatred of Jews simply for being Jewish.   In confusing contrast, Jonathan Arkush compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler. Dr Lempert, who is the GP representative member of a Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, responded to this misguided attack. Dr Lempert said that he also abhors anti-semitism and explained that anti-semitism is happening when well-meaning people fail to protect children of Jewish parents from the harm caused by ritual circumcision.  Supporters of ritual genital cutting, including Mr Miliband, should not attempt to preserve a way of life at the expense of the genital integrity of a child who is too young to consent to the operation.

The Secular Medical Forum calls on Mr Miliband to focus squarely on the rights of vulnerable infants and children.  Mr Miliband should prioritise the rights of children rather than harmful religious traditions.  Mr Miliband should defend the weak, rather than preserve abusive traditions.  He should not be misled by misplaced allegations of anti-semitism against those striving to protect children from harm.

The Secular Medical Forum works to protect all people from the imposition of other people’s beliefs in medicine.  The Secular Medical Forum wants there to be freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion, especially for children. The Secular Medical Forum campaigns against all forms of ritual genital cutting and campaigns for a safer world where children can grow up with an intact body and can make their own decisions later in life.  The Secular Medical Forum is a non-profit campaign organisation run by volunteers for the protection of patients.


  1. moleatthecounter says


    ‘Oh, hello yes… Please may I have an alarm call’?

    ‘When sir’?

    ‘As soon as possible please… How about when the rest of the world wakes up to the fact that it is the 21st century, and barbaric fucking RITUALS are outlawed once and for all’.

    ‘Certainly sir… and what time would that be?’

    ‘When we all wake up I guess….’

  2. says

    The identical procedure done on girls — the surgical removal of the clitoral hood — is roundly condemned as barbaric and unnecessary. But mutilating a male’s genitals remains perfectly fine.

  3. catballou says

    I’m not aware of a widespread practice of removing only the clitoral hood for girls. Any references?

  4. left0ver1under says

    In confusing contrast, Jonathan Arkush compared all people who oppose ritual circumcision, including those working in child protection, to Hitler.

    One could compare all rabbis performing “metzizah b’peh” to pedophiles, since it involves an adult mouth contacting an infant boy’s genitals.

    “Tradition” is not a valid reason to do something. If it were “tradition” in a country to cut off the left hands of children to prevent lefthandedness, Miliband would call that insanity. Yet the rationalization of sexual mutilation of children doesn’t even make him blink. Truly amazing.

  5. loofasword says

    So Gregory:

    1. In a thread about the menz, you pop up to ask “what about the menz”?
    2. Did you miss the part where the SMF is condemning the practice and calling for it to end?
    3. Did you think that Ophelia somehow disagrees with the SMF or agrees with male circumcision?
    4. Other than “what about the menz”, what’s your point?

  6. ck says

    The first principle of healthcare is ‘primum non nocere – first do no harm’. This guidance is disregarded by supporters of ritual circumcision.

    That principle is disregarded a lot these days. A lot of times, a health care practitioner is just trying to do more good than harm, because every surgery involves harm, every drug prescribed with side effects causes harm, and all our methods for fighting cancer involve harm. However, causing harm for no valid health reason is inexcusable.

    Perhaps a better restating of that principle would be “first, do no needless harm”, and genital cutting generally falls into the category of needless harm (there are exceptions, of course).

  7. Bjarte Foshaug says

    I don’t think Gregory’s was making a “What about teh menz” argument. There’s a difference between:

    a. “We already outlaw* even directly comparable forms** of FGM – as we should – therefore we shouldn’t tolerate male circumcision either.”
    b. “We allow male circumcision, therefore people should quit complaining about FGM”.

    I interpreted Gregory as making the former argument. If my memory serves me right the Godless Bitches made the exact same point on one of their podcasts.
    * Whether or not the law is actually enforced is of course a different matter…
    ** I know that FGM – as it is actually practiced – is not “directly comparable” to male circumcision, but even if it were, it would still be illegal.

  8. loofasword says

    But Bjarte, doesn’t argument a) in this context, directly align with SMF’s press release?

    So if that is Gregory’s point, I’m still trying to understand the point of making it.

    And sorry, Gregory, that I was too quick to assume the worst.

  9. Bjarte Foshaug says

    It does directly align. Of course, I can’t speak for Gregory, but I didn’t read his post as a counterargument at all.

  10. glodson says

    @ loofasword

    Are you reading the same post I’m reading? It sounds like Gregory is saying that since we already condemn the practice of ritually mutilating genitals in women that it follows we should be aghast that such a practice is done in men. Which means that Bjarte seems to be right that this is not a counter-argument at all, but rather an argument against male circumcision.

  11. says

    @catballou #2 – It is actually one of the more common forms of female genital mutilation; it is often but not always done in conjuction with the complete removal of the clitoris. But even when done alone, it is still condemned as barbaric and unnecessary along with other, more extreme mutilations.

    My point was to make an apples-to-apples comparison, something that proponents of male genital mutilation claim is not possible.

  12. says

    @loofasword #5 – My point is that genital mutilation is wrong, regardless of the gender of the victim, and that the proponents of male circumcision are just as wrong to shout “Tradition!” and “Religious rights!” as the proponents of female circumcision. Is that an incorrect position to take?

  13. maddog1129 says

    The identical procedure done on girls — the surgical removal of the clitoral hood — is roundly condemned as barbaric and unnecessary. But mutilating a male’s genitals remains perfectly fine.

    I wasn’t aware that most people still think mutilating a male’s genitals remains “perfectly fine.”

  14. says

    @maddog1129 – Ed Miliband, mentioned in Ophelia’s post, seems to think that mutilating a male’s genitals is perfectly fine: he has vowed to preserve the custom. Efforts to end the practice in other countries inevitably ends up with religionists screeching about how they are being persecuted because of their beliefs; many of those same religionists screech about persecution when the subject of FGM comes up, too.

  15. says

    Most American men in the boomer generation were circumcised regardless of religion.

    And none of us had any say in it. My parents were told by a doctor that there were good health reasons for it. That it was a christian hospital didn’t sink in until much later (when I started asking what they were told, at about age 17) the “medical benefits” lie has worked well and long but it’s still a lie. It’s pathetic when the response of the faithful is to lie when challenged. Their faith is weak. Of course, when it’s strong you get bloody-minded authoritarians.

    That genital mutilation has been practiced widely because of lies about health benefits doesn’t excuse the lies or the deeds.

  16. says

    In 1959, an American doctor called Rathmann invented a device for female circumcision (NSFW) with a shield to ensure that only the clitoral hood was removed and the clitoris itself was protected. It was a modified pair of Vicegrip pliers. This was covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield until 1977, and legal until 1996.

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