Tim Hammond gave a well-received presentation at the recent conference, on the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm. We thank him for pointing us to a 20-page-long paper, Circumcision is Unethical and Unlawful, published recently by the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics. The Conclusion (p.276):
Part I of this article showed that non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is not medically justified. Part II showed that circumcision violates the cardinal rules of medical ethics, including a patient’s right to autonomy and the Hippocratic Oath, and many specific ethical rules, including the fiduciary duty to one’s patient, the prohibition against unnecessary surgery, discrimination against boys, and the obligation to
defer all pediatric procedures that can be deferred.
Part III showed that, as a German court recently held, circumcision is already illegal under numerous provisions
of American and international law. Even in the far from proven case that circumcision benefits a small percentage of men, as the Royal Dutch Medical Association notes, “it is reasonable to put off circumcision until the age at which such a risk is relevant and the boy himself can decide about the intervention, or can
opt for any available alternatives.”
With near uniformity, the rules of medical ethics and the law indicate that circumcision already violates many rights of the
child, that parental permission given for it is invalid, and that physicians do not have the legal right to operate on healthy children.
Court decisions are naturally influenced by the culture
in which they are made. Circumcision has gradually
but steadily been losing support in the United
States; courts in Europe have held physicians liable
for “properly performed” circumcisions; and many
European medical organizations are calling for legislation
to end it. No national medical association anywhere
recommends the procedure.
As the balance of expert and popular opinion moves toward firmly opposing this procedure, courts will inevitably find
themselves unable to overlook the inconsistency of circumcision with medical professionals’ ethical and legal duties to the child.
Soon the ancient Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm” will be applied to male circumcision. In the meantime, we would urge physicians to consider that they are licensed and ethically
required to respect the autonomy and privacy of their patients and to leave their healthy genitals alone until the patients themselves reach an age of consent.