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Evaluations of circumcision should be circumscribed by the evidence

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i Henceforth, for the sake of simplicity, I shall refer to this as ‘circumcision’.

  • ii However, he seems to misunderstand the relationship between a child's interests and its rights, even though his argument does not rest on this misunderstanding. He says of the court that ruled against circumcision: ‘Since the German court does not consider any of the various interests of the child with respect to circumcision, I take it that the court holds something like this right-as-trump view’. See ref. 1. But the rights-as-trump view is not the view that a child's rights trump his own interests (or that a competent adult's rights trump his assessment of his own interests). It is that one's rights trump those interests of others that are not protected by rights of the same or greater strength. It is easy to understand how one could have a duty that trumped one's own interests, but it would be a very strange right that trumped a child's own interests. Any such right would prevent parents doing what is best for the child.

  • iii Some claim, for example, that sexual dysfunction is less common among circumcised men. See ref 3.

  • iv Of course, this does not stop those who dogmatically believe that circumcision has no health benefits from disputing the evidence. One common technique is to question the studies’ methodologies. This typically involves grasping at straws. However, if the methodological concerns had substance, one would think that those critical of the evidence would be interested in somebody running a trial that was methodologically sound. If the subjects of such a trial were consenting adults, the usual objections about violating a child's right to bodily integrity would not apply, and yet, we do not see opponents of circumcision recommending such trials.

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