Circumcision is psychologically damaging, good for children, barbaric, and a vital tradition - all at the same time.
The decision by a German judge to effectively ban the practice in June reignited an age-old debate over whether or not it is right to remove the male foreskin.
On Monday, a new American study claimed the health benefits of outweighed the risks, saying it may prevent diseases like HIV and has no negative effect on sexual satisfaction.
But the procedure, normally practised in Jewish and Muslim communities, remains controversial.
What do you think about circumcision? Our bloggers, Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish leadership council and Paul Livingston, a trainee barrister, see if they can change your mind.
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Have you heard the one about the blind mohel who 'got the sack'? I believe that it is time that he was made redundant, as the removal of a child's foreskin at a young age, when he is unable to consent, should be banned. The permanency, intimacy and violation of personal integrity that such a procedure involves require a strong and rational justification, which simply does not exist.
The central argument made in favour of allowing circumcision its religious and cultural importance for both Jews and Muslims. When pushed for an answer on why it is important, the response is invariably "because we are told that we must do this by (insert Holy Book/Religious Leader)".
The Chief Rabbi of Lower Saxony, near to where a German Court effectively banned circumcision earlier this year, argued that "It's more than a ritual...it's a core part of the religion", but regardless of what he or Jeremy Newmark claims about its importance to the religion, it is indeed an ancient ritual.
Even if it is part of a Jewish view of finishing God's work by removing the unnecessary (and I note the lack of encouragement of child appendix removals), we no longer accept religious/cultural practices as self-evidently permissible in a liberal democracy and therefore further analysis is needed.
Medical opinion is anything but clear on the issue and although some say that circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV and that there are potential medical benefits, this is far from widely accepted. Indeed, others point out that the relationship between circumcision and HIV is unclear and the real risk of consequences strongly outweighs the unconvincing evidence that it is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene.
Objective sources are hard to find on this subject, but even the NHS website states that medically, the possible complications outweigh any potential benefits. This debate therefore must be premised on circumcision being a non-medical procedure.
One could certainly argue that because it is non-medical, the fact that any children die from infection or suffer gross and unbearable dysfunction or disfigurement after circumcision is enough in itself to say that it should be banned. The very fact that circumcision regularly takes place outside a hospital and is often carried out by religious figures who are not medically qualified presents real and obvious dangers.
There is also a human rights debate to be had about circumcision. Although there may be difficulties with limitation to overcome, one could certainly see the prospect of a teenage boy who has Gillick competence bringing a claim against the state on the basis that their right under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights to not be subject to "inhuman or degrading treatment" has been infringed.
The state's failure to protect the child from the permanent alteration of the penis could certainly be argued to be degrading. To contend that an adult's qualified right to manifest their religion under Article 9 of the ECHR somehow outweighs this, appears to show an archaic disregard for the rights of a child.
Consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the concept of 'Parental Responsibility', parents should act in their child's best interests. The decision to circumcise is made with scant regard for this and is instead a pursuit of the parents' religious beliefs and/or cultural practices, which leaves children from the age of 8 days old (for Jewish boys) with a permanent reminder.
Dinah Rose QC recently made the contrary argument that circumcision is in a child's best interests, as part of a child's wellbeing is being part of a community. Whilst being typically formidably argued, this failed to acknowledge that if circumcision was banned, it would no longer be necessary to be a part of that community and that the same argument about cultural exclusion could be used for forced marriages.
It is also important to note that the tactic of portraying this argument to be anti-Semitic or Islamophobic and the use of Holocaust comparisons only weakens any argument in favour of circumcision and suggests that others don't stand up to scrutiny. Just as I know that most Jews and Muslims are not possessed by a desire to reduce their child's sexual pleasure and permanently disfigure them; it is intellectually lazy to label the anti-circumcision argument as motivated by hatred when it is largely a rationalist one.
The main cost of banning circumcision would be that religious groups are not allowed to carry out their religious/cultural ritual. Judaism and Islam would continue to survive and we would continue the modernisation of religious practices in civic society that includes, amongst others: the abolition of slavery; the ban on the death penalty; the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM); and the legalisation of homosexuality. Whilst I would acknowledge that FGM is not a perfect comparator, the permanent disfigurement, irreversibility, loss of sexual pleasure and lack of consent are all similar hallmarks. Vaccinations are widely accepted to be medically beneficial and are therefore carried out by the NHS as a medical procedure, making them entirely incomparable.
Put starkly, the benefits of banning circumcision of non-consenting children would be: (i) No potential complications; (ii) No permanent disfigurement of the penis and consequent reduction in sensitivity; (iii) No decision made about the child's religion eight days into his life; and (iv) Greater respect for the physical integrity of the child.
Finally, it is important to remember the position from which this debate should be taking place. Given that circumcision involves the non-medical removal of a child's foreskin without his consent and therefore a prima facie assault, as a society we must be convinced of the rational arguments in favour of it being permitted.
Many of you may have already made your minds up and would describe your views as irreversible. So was the removal of my foreskin.
Male circumcision has been a fundamental practice in Jewish life for over 3,500 years, originating with Abraham.
It is more than just a rite of passage; it is an essential link to our heritage and our culture. It is a joyous family celebration. This is a position shared with many in the Muslim community, where circumcision is a near universal rite.
There are numerous religious reasons behind brit milah, as the practice is called in Judaism, as well as the widely accepted health benefits.
An expert study just released by John Hopkins University concludes that the procedure is linked to the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and related cancers.
It warns that declining rates of US infant male circumcision could add billions to health care costs. Nowadays those who are trained to perform circumcisions, mohels, are often doctors using anaesthetics and are so proficient that hospitals frequently ask them to perform non-religious circumcisions.
Beyond public policy concerns, and contrary to dogmatic rationalist thought, circumcision is not viewed by Judaism as an act of destruction. It is believed that humanity must finish God's work by removing the unnecessary. The very same belief that is the root of the Jewish idea that we must play an active role in shaping the world, paramount to all aspects of Jewish life; charity, family, community, self-improvement and philanthropy.
Those considering a ban must consider the devastating impact it will have on Jewish and Muslim communities.
Those who understand the true nature of religious circumcision understand the deep communal and familial links created in the process.
Those who wrongly portray circumcision as a sacrifice like ritual, who believe that Jewish and Muslim communities seek mutilation of their children, are either gravely misguided or have sinister motivation.
These images hark back to antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks that have occurred throughout history. If the society we live in is willing to deny one of our most fundamental rituals, what else are they willing to prohibit?
There are two sides to the 'pro-ban' camp. The first are those mentioned above, the xenophobes, who wish to excommunicate and ban 'the other'. Alongside the rise of Islamophobia in Europe we hear calls from the far-right to ban circumcision, using shadowed pretences to conceal their racism.
The other camp is the humanists and individualists who lead the attack on this fundamental religious practice and seemingly care nothing for the essential connection that Jews and Muslims feel with their co-religionists through this rite.
Those who deride religious practices as ancient and barbaric with no place in a modern society - seeing circumcision as easily replaced by a 'modern' alternative - are unable, or unwilling to tolerate religious values. Freedom of religious practice is a cornerstone of liberal democracy.
Angela Merkel was right to distance her government from the recent Cologne court ruling and to introduce legislation to ensure the continuation of brit milah in Germany. This challenge to Jewish practice has already created a snowball effect. The prospect of a German Rabbi being arrested for performing brit milah has sent shivers through the spine of European Jewry - and rightly so.
As any parent can attest to, many difficult choices are made for their children before they are old enough to do so for themselves. These choices affect a person's entire life and personality. Brit milah is not unique; it is another one of these choices. Education, values, religion, and other matters such as vaccinations are all such choices, made without the child's express consent. Nobody seeks to curtail the rights of parents in any of these matters. Why should circumcision be treated any differently?
This piece was authored with input from Jon Benjamin, CEO of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
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