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J Med Ethics 30:248-253 doi:10.1136/jme.2004.008888
  • Symposium on circumcision

Rationalising circumcision: from tradition to fashion, from public health to individual freedom—critical notes on cultural persistence of the practice of genital mutilation

  1. S K Hellsten
  1. Correspondence to:
 S K Hellsten
 Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham; s.k.hellstenbham.ac.uk; ccskhellstenyahoo.co
  • Received 24 March 2004
  • Accepted 25 March 2004
  • Revised 25 March 2004

Abstract

Despite global and local attempts to end genital mutilation, in their various forms, whether of males or females, the practice has persisted throughout human history in most parts of the world. Various medical, scientific, hygienic, aesthetic, religious, and cultural reasons have been used to justify it. In this symposium on circumcision, against the background of the other articles by Hutson, Short, and Viens, the practice is set by the author within a wider, global context by discussing a range of rationalisations used to support different types of genital mutilation throughout time and across the globe. It is argued that in most cases the rationalisations invented to provide support for continuing the practice of genital mutilation—whether male or female—within various cultural and religious settings have very little to do with finding a critical and reflective moral justification for these practices. In order to question the ethical acceptability of the practice in its non-therapeutic forms, we need to focus on child rights protection.

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