Extending Legal Protection to Circumcisions


European government officials are attempting to respond to a court’s ruling on circumcision so that Jews and Muslims can continue to circumcise infant boys. In late June 2012, a court’s ruling in Cologne, Germany equated circumcision to a criminal act of inflicting bodily harm on boys without their consent. Internationally, criticism ran rampant, and legal confusion swelled. Hospitals in neighboring countries, although outside of the court’s jurisdiction, called for doctors to not perform any circumcisions until after the Cologne ruling and its effects were better understood.

Following this ruling, German lawmakers passed a resolution to ensure that circumcisions could be performed safely so as to not interfere with the religious rites of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. One rabbi told reporters that ritual circumcisions are “the root of the Jewish soul. It is a stamp, a seal on the body of a Jew.” Recently, Israel’s President showed support of Germany’s stance on circumcision, urging Germany to protect the ritual custom and passage of any legislation in order to do so. The American Academy of Pediatrics will also endorse infant male circumcision as a routine health practice in light of the Cologne ruling. However, those in favor of Cologne’s recent ruling argue that religion cannot mask violence against children, those of whom cannot consent to such practices.

Is the Cologne court correct? Should these infant boys be unknowingly subjected to a ritual practice that is being compared to female genital mutilation, which is banned throughout Europe? Should religious freedom trump this debate and silence the courts?

For further reading, see: The New York Times; Desert News; ABC News.


  1. Of all countries to “spearhead” the movement of outlawing religious circumcision under the theory that it is a criminal act, shouldn’t Germany be last on the list? Is a German court really in the position to rule on the matter of religious circumcision? I know that if I truly believed religious circumcision constituted non-consensual bodily harm (I don’t by the way), and wanted to put an end to the practice, I would not but using the German courts as the platform for my message as I have to assume a German court’s decision on the matter would not have much authority given Germany’s history.

    I wish I could be inside the mind of the Cologne judge when he wrote the opinion for this case. Was/is he completely clueless, or was some other factor(s) influencing his decision?

  2. This made me recall an article I read in the New York Times recently. One side of the argument, that it is unethical to remove a healthy body part from another person, is compelling. I am a firm believer that nobody should be told what they can and cannot do with their body and infant circumcision raises a unique issue since the infant’s parents (and doctors) are those exerting “control” over the child’s body. I want to endorse this stance and advocate for self-autonomy, but I find myself being convinced by the health-related arguments in favor of the procedure. Although organizations are turning out slightly different test results, the general consensus seems to be that circumcision significantly decreases the chance, by 40 to 60 percent, of males contracting H.I.V. from a female partner. Africa immediately comes to mind; widespread infant circumcision could make all the difference. And I admit that it is difficult, as a woman, to oppose a procedure that may lower rates of human papillomavirus infection. The positive effects – reduced incidence of penile cancer, urinary tract infections, and contraction of herpes simplex Type 2 – are convincing. But then that ethical argument creeps up again and I’m torn. Though it’s a bit safe, I guess I agree with the stance taken by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These are family matters and instead of being told what to do with their children, parents can, at the very least, hope that medical organizations are supplying them with reliable results indicating the health benefits of the procedure.


  3. I get the argument, that these children do not have a choice, however, I cannot imagine making the choice when I was older (if I was male and had to) because even if I wanted it done, the pain is not something I would openly want to subject myself to. Medical experts say that the procedure also becomes more dangerous as children get older and especially into adulthood. There seems to still be a debate as to whether it is medically necessary. I have read before that males who are circumcised have a hugely decreased tendency to get cancer in their penis. The real issue here is whether or not religious groups can be told that it is no longer permitted. This will never pass muster. Male circumcision is so engrained in religious ceremonies that people would do it anyways. Then we have a bunch of underground circumcisions going on, and if there were problems people would not be able to get help with out facing consequences.

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