BBC1 tomorrow evening: “A Cut Too Far? Male Circumcision”

Our thanks to M for this, relating to a 41-minute-long programme on MGM being broadcast on BBC1 from 10:35 tomorrow evening (18 July). From the BBC website:

Every year in the UK thousands of baby boys are circumcised for religious or cultural reasons. The practice, which involves removing a small part of their penis, is one of the most common surgical procedures in the world. But several European countries are considering a ban on circumcision, unless there are medical reasons for the operation to be carried out. Is it something we should consider banning here?

Journalist Adnan Sarwar was circumcised by his Muslim parents as an infant, and now he has questions about the operation and its safety. He begins his journey at an Islamic circumcision clinic in the East London Mosque. Dr Mohammad Howlader tells Adnan that, with the procedure unregulated in the UK, he wants to provide a safe clinical environment for children to be circumcised in. Adnan is astonished to discover that circumcision is an unregulated procedure in the UK and meets barrister James Chegwidden to find out what the legal position is. According to James, the law says any interference on a person’s body without their consent is an assault and that parents can only consent to surgical operations that are in the best interests of the child. And yet in practice thousands and thousands of male infants are being circumcised. So where is the balance to be struck between the rights of a child and the parents’ right to express their beliefs?

Adnan talks to his own mother and father about his own circumcision as a baby. They tell him they did it because Muslims believe it’s a commandment from God. This leads Adnan to Saleem Sidat, an Islamic scholar, to find out why it’s so important in the faith. Saleem tells him the circumcision of boys is a religious symbol encouraged by the prophet Mohammad out of respect for Abraham – a prophet revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But Saleem says there is nothing in the Qur’an requiring the circumcision of boys.

The other faith that routinely practices circumcision is Judaism. Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, a Rabbi and a leading Jewish scholar, tells Adnan that circumcision is mentioned in the Jewish holy book, the Torah. It’s seen as one of God’s commands and integral to the faith.

But even in Judaism there are people who are fighting against it. Dr Jenny Goodman, a psychotherapist, believes that the circumcision of boys is a feminist issue.

Adnan also looks at the medical evidence given in support of male circumcision. He meets a leading urologist, Dr Gordon Muir, who says that while there is evidence that circumcised boys are marginally less likely to develop urinary tract infections, such infections are rare and treatable with antibiotics. He also believes that while the majority of circumcised men have no complaints about the procedure, there is a small risk of very serious harm, with a small number of deaths in the European Union every year from non-therapeutic circumcisions.

It’s a debate that sees Adnan pulled both ways. He realises that this isn’t just a debate about cutting a piece of skin. It’s taken him to the frontline of a battle being fought between religious and cultural traditions, and secular norms. Deciding where the line should be drawn in this case will be a very difficult challenge indeed. [J4MB: It shouldn’t be remotely difficult. Minors should be protected from this butchery. Carrying out MGM is a crime under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and no exemptions to the law are allowed for cultural or religious reasons. The legal position, at least, is that simple.]

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