Thursday, 5 July 2012

Circumcision = GBH?

A court in Cologne has ruled: the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents... The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised"

This could set a precedent in an area which has been debated in Jewish and Muslim bioethics for a long time: should parents be allowed to circumcise their children?

The case came about after a 4 year old Muslim boy was admitted a week after his circumcision bleeding heavily.

The doctor was charged with GBH, a charge that was dropped on appeal on the grounds that the parents had given permission. A further regional court also dismissed the case, but on the grounds that the law was not clear.

However the court went on to add that: "The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision... This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

This does not change the law, and it will remain legal for boys to be circumcised (unlike for girls). Yet it does set a precedent that could be followed by other German courts, and further afield, in a similar case.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Committee of Jews, said the ruling was: "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination... [It is an] outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practised worldwide for centuries."

In the United States, the World Health Organisation estimates that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised, usually for hygiene reasons.

Many thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, with many belonging to the Jewish and Muslim communities. The court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.

Do you think circumcision amounts to GBH? Do you think families should be allowed to circumcise their children on religious grounds? What do you think the effects on the child may be?

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