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Infant circumcision: the last stand for the dead dogma of parental (sovereignal) rights

Abstract

J S Mill used the term ‘dead dogma’ to describe a belief that has gone unquestioned for so long and to such a degree that people have little idea why they accept it or why they continue to believe it. When wives and children were considered chattel, it made sense for the head of a household to have a ‘sovereignal right’ to do as he wished with his property. Now that women and children are considered to have the full complement of human rights and slavery has been abolished, it is no longer acceptable for someone to have a ‘right’ to completely control the life of another human being. Revealingly, parental rights tend to be invoked only when parents want to do something that is arguably not in their child's best interest. Infant male circumcision is a case in point. Instead of parental rights, I claim that parents have an obligation to protect their children's rights as well as to preserve the future options of those children so far as possible. In this essay, it is argued that the notion that parents have a right to make decisions concerning their children's bodies and minds—irrespective of the child's best interests—is a dead dogma. The ramifications of this argument for the circumcision debate are then spelled out and discussed.

  • Circumcision
  • Rights
  • Paternalism

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