A circumcision ban in Germany passed when a court in Cologne ruled that “the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighs the fundamental rights of the parents.” The court also added that “[t]he religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised.”
Heralded by Intactivists, activists who oppose infant circumcision and support genital integrity for both males and females, the circumcision ban in Germany is not without criticism. After the court ruling in Cologne, Jewish groups condemned the decision as trampling on the rights of parents. Dieter Graumann, the head of the Central Committee of Jews in Germany, stated in The Telegraph that the ruling was “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination.”
Muslim groups also fear that the circumcision ban in Germany amounts to religious discrimination. Circumcision is a prominent ceremony in both Islam and Judaism.
Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, believes that the court ruling on the circumcision ban in Germany was not influenced by religion but rather for the protection of the bodily integrity of all children. Putzke stated: “Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance.”
After the ruling on the circumcision ban in Germany, both Switzerland and Austria followed suit. Two Swiss hospitals have suspended all circumcisions, pending a reassessment of policies. The Vorarlberg province in Austria also ordered all state-run hospitals to stop performing circumcisions on boys.
Although much criticized, the circumcision ban in Germany is an important step forward in the fight for genital integrity for all children, argues Intactivist groups. I recently spoke to members of End Routine Infant Circumcision (ERIC) — Stacey M. Butler, LPN, CBE, Doula; Robert A. Jap-Tsvetkov, RN, CCRN; and Stephanie Lee Butler, RN, BSN, CLC — about the circumcision ban in Germany and the implications of the ruling.
1. Germany recently banned non-therapeutic circumcision. What does this mean for parents?
Stacy Butler: The recent ban on non-therapeutic circumcision in Germany means to the parents that they can no longer legally have the mind set that “MY Child = My Property.” A child now is literally being raised by the village once again! Parents now need to put the child’s rights before their own, and it may be a struggle, but it is necessary. It means parents seriously have to take inventory of their morals and think about what’s truly best for their child and not just be followers of the previous generations. The ruling to end FGM [female genital mutilation] passed in 1997; this prevented so much as a pin prick, for a single drop of blood, for ceremonial religious reasons. It is impossible to measure the amount of damage on the newborn penis due to the size and lack of development at the time of the non-therapeutic, cosmetic surgery. Organizations like National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), MGM Bill, Saving Our Sons, The Whole Network, and ERIC all educate the US public about the complications associated with this non-therapeutic, cosmetic procedure and the damage it does to the infant male. Finally our sons are protected from loosing what is estimated to be approximately 15 square inches of skin from the adult penis. This can be measured by using American quarters, simply placing them side by side in rows of five and columns of three. It is estimated that the adult circumcised male has a loss of up to one inch in girth and up to three inches in length as well as 20,000 specialized sexual erogenous nerve endings that are severed within a few days of birth. Now these children are safe, and the parents have time to educate themselves about the heinous crime they may have had intended for their sons.
Robert Jap: What [the circumcision ban in Germany] means to most parents, that they must take into consideration, that the child HAS rights. The cutting or amputating of a healthy erogenous tissue is medically and morally unethical. The foreskin is a functioning healthy part of the male anatomy and serves a purpose. Parents deciding to subject their child to cosmetic surgery varies on the parents’ education of what they know and do not know what the procedure entails or complications. What this also means is that the court ruling in Cologne sees that circumcision is considered bodily harm on an non-consenting minor. They feel it is in their best interest of protecting the child.
Stephanie Butler: It means that parents cannot make an arbitrary decision to cut off a healthy functioning part of their child’s sex organ without immediate medical need. It means that the rights are being given to the person to whom the body belongs, much like we feel about female genital cutting. It was recently attempted in the USA to make a tiny pin prick to the genitals of females legal for “religious reasons,” and people were OUTRAGED. But amputating the entire foreskin of a male infant for “religious” reasons is somehow OK with Americans because there are (supposed) health reasons. Well, there are also the same supposed health reasons to female genital cutting. Should parents have the right to cut their daughters genitals because they are the parents? If not, why should it be different for male infants? Why are they not protected as female infants are?
2. Many proponents of routine infant circumcision argue that the circumcision ban in Germany amounts to religious discrimination, especially towards Jewish and Muslim Germans. Why is genital integrity for all children not religiously motivated?
Stacy Butler: Why is genital integrity for all children not religiously motivated? Religious motivation would be only protecting certain children from this non-therapeutic cosmetic procedure. We as Intactivists are attempting to protect all children from this horrific crime on children. If I saw someone holding an infant over a volcano by one foot, I would attempt to rescue that child, no matter the race, creed, color, or sex of that child. I hope that clears it up for you. A child has a basic human right to choose his own religion. Until this court ruling in Cologne, Germany was enforced, these boys were not protected from their mothers or her religion. They were forced into a religion they may or may not wish to follow in their adult lives, but these babies are ultimately forever scarred and altered irreversibly. They would no longer have that choice in a religious movement; we would be forcing all children be circumcised no matter what the faith. We are protecting children to their genital integrity and human rights so that makes this is a human rights movement. In a religious movement, the child has no voice, no ability to say, “No, I want to be of another faith as an adult, or remain intact for the sake of being intact.” But, in the human rights movement, the Muslim and Jewish faiths are starting to speak out against this practice and becoming Intactivists themselves. They have started such groups such as Jews Against Circumcision, Circumcision – Does the Qur’an Approve it?, and Muslims Against the Circumcision of Children on Facebook.
Robert Jap: The religious discrimination outrage: [The opponents’ anger toward the circumcision ban in Germany] is that they feel that a lot of Jews and Muslims living in Germany or elsewhere feel their religion will die or be abandoned. It’s not [the reason that opponents of the ban are outraged]. Jews and Muslims do not want to face the fact or truth that their religion practices a “blood” sacrifice or bodily harm to their child as a requirement. Human rights have NO religion. Children have a right to choose what religion they choose to follow. For example, a child is Jewish because the mother is. Not because a 4,000 year old tradition says so. This is a human rights movement, not a religious movement. ALL boys and males have a right to his own whole body and a right to choose for himself. Freedom of religion ends where someone’s non-consenting body begins. There are now a growing number of Jews and Muslims that are starting to question and abandon the practice: Jews Against Circumcision and Circumcision – Does the Qur’an Approve it?
Stephanie Butler: Again, the “Religious” rights of parents with female children are stopped because female genital cutting is “deplorable” and “hurtful,” but it is still somehow OK to cut the genitals of male infants in the name of their PARENTS’ religion. Excuse me, but what about the rights of the child? What about HIS religious right? Is he not allowed to choose his own religion? What if he doesn’t want a part of his genitals ripped off in the name of (someone else’s) religion?
A personal sacrifice (or choice, for that matter) applies to one’s PERSON. I think this should be pretty obvious. It is not a personal sacrifice for YOU to hand your newborn over to someone to have part of his penis cut off. You are literally making a blood sacrifice of your child. Is this his choice? No. Is *he* making a covenant with God when YOU draw his blood and remove erogenous tissue? NO! Every time you circumcise a baby, you violate his rights to religious freedom because you force him into a blood-letting scarification ritual. And if he doesn’t want to practice Judaism or Islam as an adult? The scars of YOUR religion remain on his body.
3. Will doctors in Germany simply begin diagnosing more problems with the foreskin as a way to get around the circumcision ban in Germany?
Stacy Butler: If parents want to get their child circumcised bad enough, they will find a doctor, a “mohel,” or a way to get it done, but I doubt that doctors will look for new reasons to get a circumcision done because ultimately the doctors will be held to the law, causing malpractice and lawsuits. You cannot just say it needs to be done; there needs to be proper documentation for the surgery, and it needs to require assessment, intervention, evaluation, and reassessment, so they can not just do a circumcision because they make up a diagnosis. As a matter of fact, the Swiss have followed suit and stopped any non-medical circumcisions at this point.
Robert Jap: This is very, very slim that doctors will be diagnosing any problems with the circumcision ban at all. Eighty-five percent of the world’s men are left intact according to different regions of the world. Germany doesn’t practice routine infant circumcision, except the religious. The physicians in the Jewish Hospital in Cologne reported the harm done to the 4-year-old Muslim boy. Physicians in Germany are properly educated on the anatomy and functions of the foreskin whereas in the USA the physicians are not. Circumcision is an out-of-pocket expense for parents, religious or not. Physicians need to have a real proper diagnosis from proper assessment, evaluation, and intervention as this type of surgery is a last resort if all other treatments fail. Most of any or all foreskin problems can be treated with out surgery. (See Doctors Opposing Circumcision for more information.)
Stephanie Butler: This is highly doubtful, as the majority of people in Germany (actually the majority of people worldwide) don’t cut their child’s genitals. Outside of the USA, the only people who cut the genitals of infants routinely are people of Jewish and Muslim faiths…and actually most Muslims do it when the child is older. So, no, doctors will most likely not be “diagnosing” babies with problems just to get their genitals cut, Because the only people who cut children’s genitals in Germany (generally speaking) are Jewish and Muslim people.
4. Proponents of routine infant circumcision often argue that the government should not have any say in whether parents’ circumcise their baby boys, arguing that parents have the right to decide whether to circumcise their sons. From a human rights point of view, why is this argument invalid?
Stacy Butler: It is even argued in a custody court how children are not anyone’s personal property and that all medical decisions must be made jointly unless they are a life or death emergency. That being said, if both parents cannot agree, than it can not be done. If both parents cannot agree, why does the owner of the penis not have a say? It’s his body. Why shouldn’t he have the ultimate decision in this non-therapeutic, cosmetic procedure? The AAP states it is a parent’s personal choice; that makes [routine infant circumcision] a non-therapeutic, cosmetic procedure. That makes it a human rights issue…Period! There is no medical reason, no religious reason, because the religious reasons have medical fallacies to back it up. When the day is done and these infants grow up, this is where you can find out what they have been through, meet the men that have already grown and realized the pain and disability they have to live with now that they have an altered penis. Foreplay is called foreplay for a reason because it involves the foreskin, yet the men who have been altered by circumcision need to apply sexual enhancing jelly to increase the glide that was naturally there to begin with. From a human rights standpoint, how many marriages end in divorce because a man is unable to perform to the standards of his wife? How many men cheat trying to prove that he is not inadequate? How many times do we have to prove that an injury develops a scar? A scar becomes calloused if exposed to a harsh environment, and how pleasant is that when you’re talking about a penis and making love. Can you provide any man with his basic human rights when he feels like his penis is his worst enemy? (See Circumcision Harm for more information.)
Robert Jap: As speaking from a human rights point of view, the argument that the government has a say that parents do not have a right to circumcise their children and that infringes on a parents right: What about the child or the owner of the penis? It is HIS body and HIS right to say no. Governments have a right to intervene when any harm to any child is done; it is their duty to protect the child and their individuals rights. People do not OWN their children. Children own themselves as an individual person.
Stephanie Butler: From a human rights point of view, this argument is invalid because the person making the decision to cut off a healthy, functional, erogenous part of a sex organ should be the person who owns the body. Parents do NOT OWN their children. Again, female infants have rights to their own bodies’ why do males not?
The members of ERIC also provided me with a statement in response to my fourth question from Glen, a man who was circumcised but worked to restore his foreskin as an adult:
As a man who restored my foreskin, I can tell you, from my experience, circumcision is genital mutilation and greatly decreases sexual pleasure. After restoring, my sexual pleasure increased dramatically. No parent should have the right to mutilate the genitals of a baby, whether it is a boy or a girl. There should be no religious or cultural exemptions. A baby does not know what the bris is all about; all he knows is pain. If he decided to do this as an adult, he will have the understanding of it. It would still be genital mutilation, but he would have made that decision for his own body.
5. The United States is one of only a few countries with high rates of routine infant circumcision. Will the circumcision ban in Germany have any effect on policy in the US?
Stacy Butler: It is our hope that the Germany decision sets a worldwide precedent. Intactivists fight hard with the intention that it starts the banning of non-therapeutic, cosmetic circumcision. We see that Swiss has already banned this barbaric practice voluntarily. With our newest generation of intact sons, we hope that in the next 20 to 30 years, this heinous act will be almost extinct. The statistics of Americans that are intact are approximately 66 percent intact at this time, proven by this link to the MGM Bill on circumcision statistics. The highest rates are in Africa and other third world countries. (Also see the article “Extraordinarily High Rates of Male Circumcision in South Korea: History and Underlying Causes” for more information.) Due to the false information given to adult males getting circumcised in Africa and the Sub-Sahara area, Americans believe that circumcision will decrease the chances of contracting HIV and AIDS when it is well-known here in the United States all that you need to do is abstain or use a condom. Of course, wearing a condom will not prevent you coming in contact with HIV/AIDS altogether, but there is no medical evidence that a circumcision decreases your chances. There is also a lack of medical funding by Medicaid at this time, which is decreasing the amount of circumcisions that are being covered here in the USA.
Robert Jap: I’m really hoping so! That the people in the USA will start to open their eyes and minds to educate themselves properly. Most Americans are unaware that this is not practiced in many countries. In the past two years, the intact male rate has risen in the USA due to education. It’s a slow process, but we will get there where this will be a procedure in the past. Germany is setting a very positive example, that genital mutilation IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. Females are fully protected in the USA and western world; boys need and deserve the same protection.
Stephanie Butler: I sure hope so! We can only hope that people in the USA will wake up to the truth and not be veiled by myths and lies told to them by their culture. Most people in the USA don’t have a clue that worldwide this is not practiced; they think that “everybody circumcises.” This is unequivocally false. In fact, probably close to 85 to 90 percent of all the males worldwide are intact (NOT circumcised).
6. Is there anything else that you would like to add about the recent circumcision ban in Germany?
Stacy Butler: This ban is very important for the protection of males worldwide. Some people actually believe that circumcision protects against disease; the fact is the only thing that will protect against disease is a condom, used correctly. Some people think intact males are dirty and smell; the fact is intact males are not dirty if taught to clean properly from a young age, to use water on their genitals just like a girl. It is the third world countries that had no running water that believed it was cleaner to cut due to the hygienic conditions in their countries, and early day America that didn’t have access to running water. In this day in age, this frame of thought needs to be conditioned with logic, knowledge, and the fact that we all or most have running water and the ability to learn to clean ourselves. If every human male is born with a foreskin, why would it need to be cut off? It is meant to be there! It is HIS Basic Human Right and HIS choice. Why hurt a child when there is no reason to do so? One child at a time, WE will make a difference! We must ALL unite together to keep this law from being overturned; it is our one chance to keep our sons safe from this barbaric, cosmetic, non-therapeutic procedure!
Robert Jap: The anti-Semitic labeling is now just an excuse. No one is attacking ANY religion, just the practice. It would be anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic if Jewish or Muslim babies were excluded or NOT protected because their religion requires it. But, again, there are a growing number of Jews and Muslims that are keeping and protecting their boys from this barbaric practice, and those numbers are growing quite rapidly. All babies deserve the same rights as everyone else. With that being said, we can only change one mind at a time and save one baby at a time. It takes open-minded people to change traditions for the better.
Stephanie Butler: Yes, lots of people are calling this ruling “anti-Semitic.” This is anything but anti-Semitic. It is about human rights, not about religion. It is about giving the CHILD a right to choose what religion he wishes to belong to and what he wants to happen to HIS BODY. If anything, it is “Semitic” because giving human rights to everyone “except males who are born to Jewish parents” is anti-Semitic. Why should males who are born to Jewish parents not have the same basic human rights as everyone else?
Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin of the penis. Although a small percentage of the surgery are performed to correct a legitimate medical problem, most circumcisions are performed for cosmetic or religious reason. Only time will tell if the circumcision ban in Germany will affect the policy on non-therapeutic circumcision throughout the world.