J Med Ethics 31:463-469 doi:10.1136/jme.2004.009340
  • Law, ethics, and medicine

A covenant with the status quo? Male circumcision and the new BMA guidance to doctors

  1. M Fox,
  2. M Thomson
  1. School of Law, Keele University, Staffordshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Michael Thomson
 School of Law, Keele University, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, UK;
  • Received 12 May 2004
  • Accepted 31 August 2004
  • Revised 19 August 2004


This article offers a critique of the recently revised BMA guidance on routine neonatal male circumcision and seeks to challenge the assumptions underpinning the guidance which construe this procedure as a matter of parental choice. Our aim is to problematise continued professional willingness to tolerate the non-therapeutic, non-consensual excision of healthy tissue, arguing that in this context both professional guidance and law are uncharacteristically tolerant of risks inflicted on young children, given the absence of clear medical benefits. By interrogating historical medical explanations for this practice, which continue to surface in contemporary justifications of non-consensual male circumcision, we demonstrate how circumcision has long existed as a procedure in need of a justification. We conclude that it is ethically inappropriate to subject children—male or female—to the acknowledged risks of circumcision and contend that there is no compelling legal authority for the common view that male circumcision is lawful.


  • Competing interests: none declared

Responses to this article