01 September 2011

Circumcision: Law and Ethics

First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they attack you. Then you win.
(Quote often attributed to Gandhi, but believed to be a rephrasing of a quote from 1914 in an address by unionist Nicholas Klein to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in Baltimore.)

It's not really the source of the quote that's so important as the sentiment behind it. This quote is quite pertinent to the "Intactivist movement" (people who are standing up against circumcision to protect infant boys), as parents, doctors, and even lawmakers try to give pushback in response to attempts of getting baby boys the same rights to bodily integrity that our baby girls in the U.S. have.

There are a number of bills that have been put before Congress and State legislatures to try to make routine infant circumcision (RIC) of males (also referred to as Male Genital Mutilation) illegal, just as it is for females. Specifics on these bills, their texts, and which states have submitted such bills can be found at MGMbill.org.

Recently, San Francisco and Santa Monica made the news as cities trying to pass a local MGM bill. The San Francisco bill was stricken from the November ballot by Superior Court Judge, citing that it "violates a California law that makes regulating medical procedures a function of the state, not cities." And the Santa Monica bill was dropped, due to the bill being misrepresented as Anti-Semitic.

And now, Assemblyman Mike Gatto has put forth a bill (AB768) that was approved unanimously by the California State senate yesterday. This bill will essentially require that any anti-circumcision law make it through state legislation, and prohibits the smaller scale bills such as those that were attempted in San Francisco and Santa Monica. The bill goes into effect immediately.

Seems a bit of an extreme reaction to bills that were, according to online pollings, not favored by the majority, doesn't it? Especially when there is supposedly already existing law that states that cities can't regulate medical procedures. So why the need for an additional law that singles out circumcision to say that THAT specifically can't be regulated by city, county, municipality, etc?

Everything in the news has, if anything, just brought circumcision more to the forefront. And hopefully has gotten many thinking about the motivations behind circumcision, as well as what a double standard we hold in protecting our daughters while handing our sons over to have them permanantly altered just days after they make the harsh transition from womb to the outside world.

Female circumcision (also referred to as Female Genital Mutilation or FGM) was outlawed in 1996. The FGM law (see Sec. 645 for Criminalization of Female Genital Mutliation) notes (emphasis mine):
(a) <<NOTE: 18 USC 116 note.>>  Findings.--The Congress finds that--
            (1) the practice of female genital mutilation is carried out by members of certain cultural
 and religious groups within the United States;
The law does also go on to make exceptions in the case of medical necessity, such as an episiotomy during childbirth.

However, the recognition by Congress that FGM is carried out for cultural and religious reasons is significant, as despite this, they find that:
(5) the practice of female genital mutilation can be prohibited without abridging the exercise of any rights guaranteed
Which is to say the find that there is no compelling religious or cultural reason that female circumcision should be legally permitted. So why are we allowing this on our baby boys?

In 2015, we may be seeing some of the first lawsuits from men who were circumcised as infants after the FGM law was passed, citing the fact that, under the 14th Amendment, they should be afforded the same legal protection that our girls current received (again, emphasis below is mine):
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
And I haven't even touched the issues surrounding the medical practices of circumcision such as informed consent, the Hippocratic Oath, and rates of complications from circumcision. And okay, so I didn't delve too deeply into the ethics of it, aside from the inequal treatment that boys and girls get, mostly because a lot of the ethics are more deeply tied to the medical practices than these laws.

But now that I have gotten to let off a bit of steam about the recent passing of a ridiculous bill and touched on why, legally, boys should be getting the same protections that girls have had since 1996, maybe I can blog about other things for a few posts before returning to circumcision.

Related Reading:
Circumcision is immoral, should be banned

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