While critics of circumcision are rejoicing, Jewish and Muslim groups are condemning a court ruling that deemed the procedure equivalent to grievous bodily harm, claiming the ruling trampled on religious freedom and could lead to “circumcision tourism”.
Religious-based circumcision is officially considered bodily harm–a criminal offense regardless of parental consent. Circumcisions carried out for medical reasons, however, are not illegal.
A court in the city of Cologne said circumcision violated a child’s “fundamental right to bodily integrity” and that this right outweighed the rights of the parents. The ruling was inspired by a groundbreaking case, where a doctor circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy at the request of the boy’s parents. When the boy was hospitalized for hemorrhaging four days after the procedure, prosecutors were notified and the doctor was charged with grievous bodily harm, or Korperverletztung, in German.
“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,” the court added.
“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.”
The court case revolved around a four-year-old Muslim boy who was circumcised at the request of his parents but was later admitted to hospital with bleeding.
The doctor was charged and tried for grievous bodily harm but was acquitted on the grounds he had parental consent.
By “self determination,” the court means letting the child choose for himself if and when he wants to be circumcised.
The vast majority of the world’s men, including most Europeans and Scandinavians, are uncircumcised. And before 1900, circumcision was virtually nonexistent in the United States as well–except for Jewish and Muslim people, who’ve been performing circumcisions for thousands of years for religious reasons. Believe it or not, circumcision was introduced in English-speaking countries in the late 1800s to control or prevent masturbation, similar to the way that female circumcision–the removal of the clitoris and labia–was promoted and continues to be advocated in some Muslim and African countries to control women’s sexuality.
This decision eliminates what was considered to be a gray area for doctors. Now the possibility of acquittal on religious grounds no longer exists. This ruling has also caused some outrage in Jewish communities which view it as interfering with religious freedoms.
This Israeli news outlet, quotes a prominent figure in Germany’s Jewish community:
According to the head of the Central Council, Dr. Dieter Graumann, the court issued an “unprecedented and dramatic interference in the self-determination right of religious communities.” He added that the decision is an “inappropriate and insensitive act.”
The article also states that this case will quite possibly be challenged and taken to the Federal Constitutional Court.
Jewish groups were supported by leaders of Germany’s large Muslim population “I feel the decision is discriminatory and counters efforts to promote integration,” said Ali Demir, chairman of the Islamic Religious Community in Germany. “This is a harmless procedure that has thousands of years of tradition and a high symbolic value.
A sidebar on a Deutschland Financial Times article polls readers with the question, “Religious circumcision of boys should –be forbidden or remain an option?” Seventy five percent of voters are for forbidding it, 25 percent are against.
The World Health Organisation has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised.
Thousands of young German boys, mainly from the country’s Jewish and Muslim communities, are circumcised each year. The country has around four million Muslims and 105,000 Jews, and a 2007 study found that 10.9 per cent of males aged between 0 and 17 had been circumcised.
While equating ritual circumcision with grievous bodily harm the Cologne court said that practice is acceptable on medical grounds.
Although rare in Europe, circumcision is common in the United States. Around 55 per cent of males undergo the operation in America, mainly for reasons of hygiene.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.