Many bioethicists and progressive politicians want to outlaw infant circumcision — even though it is an essential aspect of Jewish faith and almost as important in Islam. In a few instances, the “intactivist” campaign has taken on explicitly anti-Semitic tropes.
There’s no logic to the campaign. Now, the Journal of Medical Ethics has published a piece decrying circumcision — and making the ridiculous comparison to female genital mutilation to claim that it is sexist to bar FGM while permitting circumcision. From “Male or Female Genital Cutting: Why ‘Health Benefits’ are Morally Irrelevant:”
Western societies cannot coherently continue to maintain that non-Western forms of female genital cutting are ‘categorically unacceptable while endorsing a balancing approach to male cutting’ (p532). Rather, he insists, medically unnecessary genital cutting is ‘intrinsically wrong because it violates the right to physical integrity of the child; thus, the conclusion that genital cutting is wrong as a matter of principle applies equally to boys and girls’ (ibid).
In light of such arguments, which are gaining steam among bioethicists and legal experts, it seems that individuals, groups and organisations—including the AAP and WHO—that categorically condemn all medically unnecessary genital cutting of non-consenting female minors, while simultaneously approving of such cutting of male minors, will need to make up their minds. If they see the former as violating a child’s right to bodily integrity, no matter how slight the cutting and irrespective of parental motivations, religious or otherwise, then they ought to extend this principle across the spectrum of sex and gender and stand up for the bodily integrity rights of children who have intersex traits, as well as those who have male-typical genitalia (including both cisgender boys and transgender girls). That is my own position and I have defended it at length in other publications.
If, on the other hand, they see it as permissible for parents to authorise medically unnecessary genital cutting for children who have a penis, regardless of the reason and whether or not meaningful health benefits are expected to accrue, then they ought to extend this principle back across the spectrum to children who have a vulva, while deciding on the precise type or extent of genital cutting they are willing to tolerate in this regard.
A little sanity please. FGM is not required by any religion of which I know, at least in the formal sense. It is more a cultural custom than an explicitly religious requirement. For example, it is my understanding that FGM appears nowhere in the Koran.
In contrast, infant circumcision — I won’t use the woke terms deployed by the author instead of “boys” and “girls” — is commanded explicitly in Jewish scripture.
Second, circumcision is inclusive; that is, it is a religiously essential act that ushers the baby boy into his faith and traditions of his forebears. FMG, even of the pin-prick type, is discriminatory, a means of demonstrating the inferiority of girls. In its more extreme manifestations, it is designed to stifle normal sexual response as a means of oppression.
Third, the best time to circumcise is in infancy before nerves connect and maturation makes the surgery far more complicated and risky. Moreover, boys don’t remember it. FGM usually takes place during girlhood, when it will be remembered, often imposed without anesthesia.
Barring circumcision would more stifle a Jewish boy’s autonomy rights by depriving him of an essential part of his becoming part of the Jewish community. The only choice for the boy wanting to be fully included into Judaism would be to do it in adulthood, when the surgery would be far more complicated and risky.
Finally, circumcision in infancy has mild health benefits for the future man — to the point that the American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits “justify” leaving the choice with parents. And remember, the AAP is not exactly conservative, for example, supporting puberty blocking for children with gender dysphoria. There are zero health plusses for FGM.
Articles like this one are aimed, ultimately, at attacking religious freedom and imposing a utilitarian secularist cloak over all of society. Indeed, there are already attacks on Kosher and Halal meat — for example, it is barred in parts of Belgium and New Zealand because activists believe the means of slaughter is inhumane. The rite of circumcision is also in activists’ crosshairs. That is why we see the continuing effort to blur the crucial moral distinctions between it and FGM.