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J Med Ethics 39:469-474 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101229
  • Current controversies

Circumcision of male infants as a human rights violation

  1. J Steven Svoboda
  1. Correspondence to J Steven Svoboda, Executive Director, Attorneys for the Rights of the Child, 2961 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, California 94707, USA; arc{at}post.harvard.edu
  • Received 9 November 2012
  • Revised 17 January 2013
  • Accepted 30 January 2013
  • Published Online First 22 May 2013

Abstract

Every infant has a right to bodily integrity. Removing healthy tissue from an infant is only permissible if there is an immediate medical indication. In the case of infant male circumcision there is no evidence of an immediate need to perform the procedure. As a German court recently held, any benefit to circumcision can be obtained by delaying the procedure until the male is old enough to give his own fully informed consent. With the option of delaying circumcision providing all of the purported benefits, circumcising an infant is an unnecessary violation of his bodily integrity as well as an ethically invalid form of medical violence. Parental proxy ‘consent’ for newborn circumcision is invalid. Male circumcision also violates four core human rights documents—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture. Social norm theory predicts that once the circumcision rate falls below a critical value, the social norms that currently distort our perception of the practice will dissolve and rates will quickly fall.