Circumcision: suffer little children

A few months ago I made a comment on Curly’s blog, where I made a somewhat clumsy yet robust case against Curly’s call for blind respect for religion in the interest of social cohesion, where I argued that there are many features of religions that aren’t worthy of our respect in a liberal civilised society.

A respondent on Curly’s blog, Lalon Amin, took my comment as being anti Islam, and tried to engage in some spirited apologetics against something I didn’t say.  Nowhere in my comment did I specifically mention Islam as most of the features I described could be found in several religious societies, although some of the behaviours can be seen in some Islamic subcultures.

An aspect I wanted to explore further is non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision.  Infant circumcision is a hot-button topic in the USA in the moment, after San Francisco was denied the opportunity to hold a referendum on the banning of non medical infant circumcision, and a petition to ban non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision on the Whitehouse website is generating plenty of debate.

Fortunately, male infant circumcision is much lower here in the UK than it is in the USA, but like the USA, the UK has banned female circumcision.  I think it’s long overdue for non-medical infant male circumcision to be banned in the UK.

To a large extent circumcision is a cultural phenomenon, but one which is often justified through the interpretation of religious texts, and supervised and enforced by clerics and social pressure.

Freedom of and freedom from religion are necessary in a civilised society, but religious freedom should not include the right to inflict ritual surgical alterations on children.  Outlawing non-therapeutic routine infant circumcision would protect children and allow them to make their own choice when they become adults.

There’s an argument that it’s up to parents to decide if their child is circumcised or not.  However, the same logic could be applied to parents who want to withhold medical treatment from their child.  To some people it might seem like an intervention too far, but in some cases children need to be protected from their parents’ beliefs.

In terms of the claimed medical benefits of male circumcision, the evidence is far from conclusive.  Circumcision advocates seem to cherrypick the research that confirms their biases.  It’s not without irony that some people will try to use science to find confirmation for their religious doctrine.

However, even if the evidence did confirm that circumcision provided some protection from HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, circumcision doesn’t provide anywhere near the same protection as barrier protection methods, and it still should be the decision of an adult to have a circumcision.

That’s the key point.  Non-medical circumcision should be an adult’s decision over their own body.  Circumcising children takes that basic right away from them and makes an irreparable change to a child’s body.  Individual right to freedom requires that such physical abuse on those who can’t defend themselves from religion, culture or social convention should not be permitted in a civilised society.  Non medical circumcision children should be banned.

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