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Circumcision in Germany: The Courts Speak

27 Jun, 12 | by Iain Brassington

I’m writing this while listening to Mary Warnock talking at the IAB, so it’ll be unusually short and to the point: a court in Germany has ruled that male circumcision for religious reasons “amounts to bodily harm”.

In a decision that has caused outrage among Jewish and Muslim groups, the court said that a child’s right to physical integrity trumps religious and parental rights.

The ruling doesn’t quite say that the procedure is illegal – but

the court’s judgement said the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”.  Circumcision, it decided, contravenes “interests of the child to decide later in life on his religious beliefs”.

Predictably enough, this ruling has not been warmly welcomed by the Jewish and Muslim communities:

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called it “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination”.

That’s telling.  The rights of the child give way to the right of a community to cut him.  Can communities have rights anyway?  I’m not at all sure.  If they can, and if self-determination is one of them, does that always have to come out trumps?  Again, I’m not at all sure.  It’s strange to see rights-talk brought to the table in defence of unconsented, irreversible, and non-therapeutic body modification.  If a boy decides that it’s important to get himself circumcised later in life, then that’s a different matter entirely: good for him.  But without any choice?  I may have missed something, but I don’t understand how the claim is supposed to work.  Can anyone help out?

There’s a satellite meeting on boys’ circumcision here at the IAB.  I’ll miss it: I’m speaking elsewhere at the time.  But if anyone reading this goes (or went), will (was) this case mentioned?

UPDATE: Contrarian-for-hire Brendan O’Neill ham-fistedly disagrees with the ruling in The Telegraph.  Ophelia tears him a new one at B&W.

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  • Peter Herissone-Kelly


    I’m writing this while listening to Mary Warnock talking at the IAB …”. Surely you’re writing it while not really listening to Mary Warnock?

  • http://www.law.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/staff/iain_brassington Iain Brassington

    Were I an American, I’d gesture vaguely in the direction of the fifth amendment.

  • Guest

    Didn’t go to all of it but I thought ‘Circumcision’ was one of the best sessions at the Congress, and interestingly featured the best-looking men – of a certain age!  Audience discussion interesting in that momentum is gathering amongst some Jewish communities for a ceremony of (Hebrew) naming of the child without the cutting taking place. Other discussions included possible lessening of sexual pleasure reported by those who had been circumcised as adults; cases cited included deaths from circumcision.  The first half of the symposium which I missed apparently concentrated on the controversy as to whether circumcision lessens the transmission of HIV. 

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