Human Exceptionalism

Circumcision is None of San Francisco’s Business

Only in San Francisco. A ballot initiative has made the ballot that would make circumcision a crime. From the Wall Street Journal story:

A group seeking to ban the circumcision of male children in San Francisco has succeeded in getting their controversial measure on the November ballot, meaning voters will be asked to weigh in on what until now has been a private family matter. City elections officials confirmed Wednesday that the initiative had received enough signatures to appear on the ballot, getting more than 7,700 valid signatures from city residents. Initiatives must receive at least 7,168 signatures to qualify. If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.

I reject the argument that circumcision is child abuse. It has deep religious roots (required in Judaism and most adherents to Islam), it provides modest benefits, e.g. greater cleanliness–and we now know, protection against diseases such as HIV–it is not intended to, nor does it destroy normal sexual function in the brutal way of female genital mutilation, and the baby will not remember it ever taking place.

As to whether it should or should not be done, here is what the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on circumcision states:

Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child. To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision. It is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to the medical factors, when making this decision. Analgesia is safe and effective in reducing the procedural pain associated with circumcision; therefore, if a decision for circumcision is made, procedural analgesia should be provided. If circumcision is performed in the newborn period, it should only be done on infants who are stable and healthy.

In other words, it’s up to the parents, and whichever way they decide is legitimate and proper.

What I have noticed when this issue has come up here at SHS–I try to avoid it generally, but people obsessed by the procedure tend to bring it up when I criticize female genital mutilation–is that the anti circumcision movement seems to be partly driven by an emotional belief that somehow sex is less intense and pleasurable for the uncircumcised. I know that isn’t universally true, that some truly believe it is a form of abuse, and I am not discounting those sincere beliefs. But I have seen the sex issue brought up way too often to not have noticed. And that odd obsession is certainly not a legitimate basis for such an intrusive intervention by government.

Bottom line: Whether a baby is circumcised is not the voters’ business.  If it became law–and believe me, in SF anything can happen–it would seem to be an unconstitutional infringement on parental and religious rights.

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