Last week, I wrote about the court in Germany that ruled non-medically necessary circumcisions were to be stopped. There have been some recent updates to the story.
The German parliament has passed a resolution to ‘protect the religious circumcision of infant boys’.
the resolution, jointly filed by Merkel’s conservatives, their liberal coalition ally (FDP) and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), demanded that “the government present a draft law in the autumn … that guarantees that the circumcision of boys, carried out with medical expertise and without unnecessary pain, is permitted.”
The new law would overrule the Cologne court decision, the report noted.
Lawmakers noted in the resolution that the court ruling had deeply unsettled Muslims and Jews in Germany, as they feared the practice would now be outlawed, while doctors were alarmed at the threat of prosecution if they performed operations.
“Jewish and Muslim religious life must continue to be possible in Germany. Circumcision has a central religious significance for Jews and Muslims,” the resolution stated.
The issue isn’t about to go away, however. German courts may yet declare the legislation to be unconstitutional. An Austrian province has cited the German ruling as a reason to stop unnecessary circumcisions:
The governor of Vorarlberg has told hospitals run by Austria’s westernmost province to suspend circumcisions motivated by religious custom, citing a German regional court ruling that the practice amounted to causing criminal bodily harm.
Markus Wallner says he sees the German decision last month, arising from the case of a child whose circumcision led to medical complications, as “precedence-setting judgment.”
He told provincial hospitals Tuesday not to perform the procedure except for health reasons until the legal situation is clarified in Austria.
Two hospitals in Switzerland have also suspended the procedure:
On Thursday, the Zurich children’s hospital announced that it was temporarily halting circumcision operations. “We are in the process of evaluating the legal and ethical stance in Switzerland,” said Marco Stuecheli, a spokesman for the hospital.
Defenders of the practice are citing religious freedom and the necessity of circumcision to both the Jews and Muslims. However, we must ask the larger question—what are the limits on religious freedom? As I pointed out in my earlier post, we have no trouble whatsoever condemning female circumcision, a practice that is only carried out for religious reasons. While not a severe a mutilation as girls receive, the German court’s ruling on infant male circumcision stated: The practice is a “serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body.” Where should we draw the line?
As in so many moral discussions, it is relatively easy to see the extremes. At one end we can say that severe mutilation of infants is immoral. At the other end of the scale, consenting adults should be free to modify their body as they wish. In between, we are faced with the questions of how much infant mutilation should be allowed, and what role should religion play in that debate?
Something we might compare with circumcision is tattooing. This is a (relatively) permanent body modification that is practised widely; one that has some laws or rules around the procedure.
Australia has legislation restricting tattoos to those over the age of 18. In the US, it is determined by state legislatures.
At least 39 states have laws prohibiting minors from getting tattoos. Thirty-one states have laws that prohibit both body piercing and tattooing on minors without parental permission.
Canada does not have any laws regarding age, but many parlours will not tattoo anyone under the age of 18. This is at least partially due to the fact that minors are not responsible for contracts they enter into before they reach the age of consent.
This brings us back to the consent aspect of medical procedures. Parents and guardians have the right to approve medical procedures for their children or wards. They are also responsible for decisions that negatively impact the children. Without the religious aspect, no reasonable person would accept any mutilation of an infant. Why should religion get a free pass on this?