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The child's right to an open future: is the principle applicable to non-therapeutic circumcision?
  1. Robert J L Darby
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert J L Darby, Independent researcher, Curtin, ACT 2605, Australia; robertdarby{at}homemail.com.au

Abstract

The principle of the child's right to an open future was first proposed by the legal philosopher Joel Feinberg and developed further by bioethicist Dena Davis. The principle holds that children possess a unique class of rights called rights in trust—rights that they cannot yet exercise, but which they will be able to exercise when they reach maturity. Parents should not, therefore, take actions that permanently foreclose on or pre-empt the future options of their children, but leave them the greatest possible scope for exercising personal life choices in adulthood. Davis particularly applies the principle to genetic counselling, arguing that parents should not take deliberate steps to create physically abnormal children, and to religion, arguing that while parents are entitled to bring their children up in accordance with their own values, they are not entitled to inflict physical or mental harm, neither by omission nor commission. In this paper, I aim to elucidate the open future principle, and consider whether it is applicable to non-therapeutic circumcision of boys, whether performed for cultural/religious or for prophylactic/health reasons. I argue that the principle is highly applicable to non-therapeutic circumcision, and conclude that non-therapeutic circumcision would be a violation of the child's right to an open future, and thus objectionable from both an ethical and a human rights perspective.

  • Children
  • Circumcision
  • Clinical Ethics
  • Newborns and Minors
  • Autonomy

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