Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Circumcision: time to cut it out?

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

Ever since a Regional Court in the German city of Cologne ruled against it in June, the practice of male circumcision has remained a highly controversial issue.

As the German authorities considered how to respond to the court's decision, which ruled that circumcision of a child constitutes constitutes "bodily harm", some hospitals in Austria and Switzerland suspended the practice, while newspapers across Europe published impassioned arguments from commentators on both sides of the debate.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, the American Academy of Pediatrics has just this week released a report concluding that "the medical benefits outweigh the risks of the procedure". However, while a positive report from a professional medical association could be viewed as a ringing endorsement of circumcision, the supposed health benefits are the subject of much debate among medical experts. The British Medical Association have stated that “the evidence concerning health benefits from non-therapeutic circumcision is insufficient for this alone to be a justification”, while on the more specific issue of whether circumcision can help reduce the spread of HIV, Brian Earp of Oxford University has concluded that the claim amounts to "bad science".

With the debate already raging when we were planning our new issue, we asked Toby Lichtig to investigate for us. Coming from a secular Jewish background, Toby is familiar with the persistence of circumcision as a cultural signifier – he's circumcised himself, and has debated the issue with members of his family who insist that circumcision is an important ritual milestone in the life of a Jewish boy.

Having concluded that he would not have a son of his own circumcised, in his piece for New Humanist Toby goes on to consider whether the practice ought to be banned by the authorities – is it a harmless ritual that may even have some health benefits, or an antiquated and dangerous procedure, forced on those too young to offer consent, with no place in the modern world?

Read Toby's piece over on our main website, and please do get involved in the debate in the comments.
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