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J Med Ethics 30:241-247 doi:10.1136/jme.2003.003921
  • Symposium on circumcision

Value judgment, harm, and religious liberty

  1. A M Viens
  1. Correspondence to:
 A M Viens
 Department of Philosophy, St Anne’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, UK; adrian.viensphilosophy.ox.ac.uk

    Parents’ freedom to choose infant male circumcision is the correct policy

    Individuals and groups lobbying to have infant male circumcision prohibited or restricted often argue that the practice of routinely circumcising infants is unjustified. For instance, in this issue of the journal, John Hutson argues that it is virtually impossible to justify a policy in which the medical establishment should be able to embark on a “mass circumcision” campaign of 100% of the infant male population (with the exception, of course, where it would be contraindicated by the presence of an anatomical or physiological abnormality) [see page 238].1

    Indeed, I would be hard pressed to find anyone who could rationally disagree with this contention. However, this is because no one is currently arguing for the enactment of a policy that stipulates that all healthy male infants should be routinely circumcised (independent of parental choice). Arguments seeking to support a prohibition of “routine infant circumcision”, such as the one by Hutson, are arguing against a straw man—and a pitiful one at that.2 Such arguments only serve to misconstrue the debate and avoid engaging in the real and pressing issues concerning the legitimacy of the provision of this procedure.

    The questions that should be considered, and the ones which I shall be interested in discussing here, are what reasons are justifiable for allowing parents to choose to have their son circumcised? After well informed and careful deliberation should parents have the freedom to choose to have their son circumcised? These are the most relevant questions to be considered because there is a growing collection of citizens, medical practitioners, and lawyers who are currently lobbying for the practice of infant male circumcision to be outlawed—for example, there is a bioethicist who argues that the criminal law should be used …