The attached article is by Prof. John Radford, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of East London. It was published in Freethinker about three years ago: and mentioned again on the NSS web bulletin Newsline on 9 April 2009. Both John Radford and Barry Duke (Freethinker) have given permission for the article to be used here in the hope that it will lead to more males being spared the frightening and unnecessary ordeal of circumcision.

John Radford wrote:

“Barry Duke describes, in the December 2005 Freethinker, the unpleasant practice of the Jewish mohel, who after cutting off the male infant’s foreskin, traditionally sucks the blood from the penis. A correspondence I had with the Department of Health may be of interest. I first wrote, addressed to the then Secretary of State, Dr John Reid, on 16th December 2004, as follows.

‘It is reported in East End Life, the community paper published by Tower Hamlets Council (13-19 December, 2004), that a “hospital based religious and cultural male circumcision service for people registered with a G.P. in Tower Hamlets is to be set up at Mile End Hospital”. The service is to be non-profit making but will charge a fee.

‘I read this report with near incredulity. Male circumcision, I need hardly point out, involves excising the foreskin of the penis, making a permanent alteration and normally leaving scar tissue. Mutilation of the genitals, or indeed any part of the body, cannot be considered as other than a serious assault on the person, unless there is clear medical justification. That is very rare, and is clearly not the case here. It is entirely unjustifiable when the individual is able to give fully informed and free consent. Children are not able to give such consent. Indeed they are usually not given the opportunity to do so. It is absolutely unacceptable that this practice should take place under the auspices of the National Health Service.

The Government is rightly exercised over whether, and to what extent, parents should be permitted the use of corporal punishment. There would be universal agreement, however, that if allowed it should never result in permanent physical damage. Circumcision does just that.

‘It may be said that circumcisions on religious or cultural grounds do take place, and it is better that it should be done in a hygienic environment. This argument could be used to justify any practice, and can be dismissed. Further, any surgical procedure carries some risk, and should never be undertaken unless really necessary. There is also the argument of respect for cultural and religious traditions. However, we do not allow this to override what is acceptable in our society. Fundamental to this is the rule of law, and that law must be based on such principles as respect for the person, equality before the law and protection of the weak. These principles are violated by the practice of non-medical circumcision of children.

‘I should like you to give me your assurance that your Department, and the National Health Service, do not support the practice of circumcision on non-medical grounds, and will do nothing to facilitate or condone it.’

I received no reply, and in writing on 11th February 2005 to request one, added: ‘I would add that since I wrote, legislation has come into force which, as I understand it, makes it an offence to use corporal punishment on a child in such a way as to leave a mark. Circumcision leaves a permanent mutilation. It also appears that non-medical amputation might be illegal under Human Rights Legislation. If not, however, the same would be true of cigarette smoking. This is legal, but in view of the known harm it often does, your Department does what it can to discourage it, especially among children. Circumcision is a precise and certain harm.’

This elicited the following (with apologies for delay), from a William Frost of the Customer Service Centre.

“It is generally agreed that circumcision brings no proven benefits to a person’s physical health, but at the same time, it is of deep significance for the Jewish and Islamic communities. However, this Department has no plans to issue guidance to cover ritual circumcision. We regard with respect the religious and cultural traditions that have existed for centuries and which are ultimately a matter of individual choice. Strategic Health authorities and NHS Trusts are free to choose whether to provide this surgery or not. However, their decision should be based on local circumstances and, if they do choose to provide ritual circumcision, costs should be met from funds available locally.

The legal position is unclear as it is untested. The protection of children from “traditional practices prejudicial to the health of the children” (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) has to be balanced against the rights of individuals to practise their religion, as enshrined in the 1998 Human Rights Act.

The most important issue is the safety of the child. Whilst no surgery is entirely without risk, an operation carried out in an appropriately equipped hospitable is preferable to one carried out by a “lay circumciser” in the community. We support the General Medical Council’s Guidance on circumcision issued in September 1997. This states that doctors who carry out this procedure must be properly skilled, must keep up to date on surgical methods, and must discuss the surgery with the parents beforehand.

I hope this information is helpful”.

Well, it is, in showing that neither reason nor ethics has much to do with it. Everything that is said applies equally to female ‘circumcision’ which is rightly illegal. As I could not see how to make any progress, I acknowledged the reply, merely commenting that it seemed odd for the Department of Health to ‘regard with respect’ the mutilation of children.

Male circumcision is only one of many traditional body markings or alterations with various functions, the most obvious perhaps being to indicate group identity or membership. The group may be a tribe or clan, etc, or one sex, or adult versus child. For Jews, this is exemplified by the myth of Abraham’s covenant with God, in Genesis 17, 10-14 (I guess, invented to account for an existing practice). For Muslims, and other groups, it is simply traditional. It is not mentioned in the Koran, and apparently is considered compulsory by only one of the six schools of Islamic law, though the others recommend it. It is common in the United States, possibly for supposed medical reasons rather than religious ones, but it seems to be declining significantly there.

Child abuse of all kinds is tragically all too common. Male circumcision is far from the worst example. But abuse it is, and I do not see that it can be justified on grounds of long tradition or religious belief. A belief, however strongly held, cannot entitle anyone to inflict harm on others. This is above all the case if the others are defenceless, as children are.

It seems to me reasonable to expect that the national Department of Health, as a minimum, should not condone or encourage it. I have not come across a psychological study of the effects on a boy (Muslims are often aged six to eleven) of his loving parents informing him that they have just arranged for a man to cut off part of his penis. A website gives an extensive run-down of medical reasons against it, in an article written by Dr. John Dean who concludes that the best advice is “if it is not absolutely necessary, don’t do it.” This site also carries 187 questions and answers on the topic. But Dr. Dean bizarrely concludes with the assurance that the author has the greatest respect for all religions, and apologises if his words have given offence. Personally I feel no such respect, indeed this barbaric remnant of primitive behaviour would by itself destroy any vestige of it.”

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Replies to This Discussion

Opposing quotations from the bible:

Institution of the ‘wrong of circumcision’:
Genesis 17:10: “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: Every man child among you shall be circumcised.”
11. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.
12. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations. . .”

Condemnation of the rite of circumcision:
Galatians 5:2: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
5:3. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
5:6. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.”

Interesting topic. I'm aware that there are a number of anticircumcision groups. Occasionally arguments come up with regard to health benefits of circumcision, the most recent of which was significant reduction of HIV infection in circumcised men, specifically in certain areas (I beleive this benefit was seen in some African communities). If it's true that circumcision would significantly reduce HIV transmission, then it's worth considering the procedure in those communities where it can make a difference.

Other than the HIV argument, I have not seen any good, solid, arguments in favor of this procedure. I've seen plenty of good arguments against it. I would advise anyone who is considering this for their infant child, to think again.

I suspect that in the US, the origins of circumcision are more in the anti-sexual hygeine, especially in the 1950's and 1960's. It's simply easier to clean with less attention to the genitals. Some religious tract that I read growing up also mentioned the importance of circumcision in reducing sensation, to prevent the sin of masturbation - but I truly doubt that there was any reduction in masturbation in circumcised boys.

Since this forum relates to origins, I am curious about the origins of this ritual procedure. I'm not sure that I beleive the Abrahamic legend. Is there even archeological or contemporary evidence of someone named Abraham, or is that a story-telling attempt by a tribe, to give themselves a shared history and culture? Was the original circumcision story the same, that it was a story told to justify a practice that had already developed?

Other tribal societies have body modification procedures - head binding, foot binding, piercings, scarification, tattooing, and more. Is the significance of circumcision any different, from a cultural (not medical) point of view, as those procedures?
Interesting post... If I was to start a new "religion" tomorrow, that demanded my son's to have their left minimus (little finger) cut off, how long do you think it would be before the NHS would "regard with respect" that belief, and let me do it "for a fee"?

When it comes to Galatians I'm afraid the jews would offer that little respect, as it's in the NT, and therefore not valid by their particular religion...
Harold -

Would that religion then be Minimism? And people who don't believe, of course, would be Aminimists. :-)

But your do make a good point. This is the only religious-based procedure that we expect Dr.s to do. Also, one of the few that some health insurance pays for. From a necessity argument, health insurance should not pay for circumcision of infants or boys- only adults with phimosis or other medical indications. If it's not a religious-based procedure, then it's cosmetic. Again, why should our insurance pay for a cosmetic procedure? Will it pay for LASIK for kids who wear glasses? No.

Even the disease-prevention argument, in the case of HIV, has some questions. For example, lets say a child is born into a family that had a strong risk for early onset ovarian cancer, and is tested for the cancer gene. Her genetic test for the cancer gene is strongly positive, leading to a risk of ovarian cancer by the age of 22. The only way to screen for it is CT scans, each of which carries a radiation risk so there is cumulative risk of causing cancer, by doing the screening. Would we remove that child's ovaries as an infant, before she could make her own decision?

I don't beleive that men are traumatized for life after infant circumcision. I also don't consider it 'mutilation' any more than I do a tattoo or tummytuck surgery.

I just don't think that there is any good reason to continue doing it, there are some risks, there is expense, it is purely cosmetic and religious based, and there are no benefits in most populations.

I also agree that an elective, cosmetic procedure, not required, and irreversable, with no benefit, and with even rare complications, should not be done in innocent infants who can't consent to it.
Oh, baloney! What a tempest in a teapot. As a medical doctor, for lo these many decades, I can tell you this is nonsense. Permanent mutilation? Without getting too graphic, I can assure you that having seen many thousands--- and done quite a few on newborn males--- virtually nothing stated above is anything more than drivel, and another poorly disguised attempt to bash theism. And to compare female "circumcision" with male circumcision is just plain ignorant, if not stupid.

Why can't we just be content in our atheism? This insistence on continually striking out and on attacking straw men is petty and adolescent, and not worthy of the enlightened thinkers we aspire to be. Those who insist on engaging in these non-issues are at bottom, I suspect, uncomfortable with their own beliefs.
Cicero, you miss the fucking point. A baby can not give iinformed consent. The procedure is unnecessary, and comes from ignorant and stupid beliefs, religious or otherwise. If an adult decides to have it done, then it's his business. To do it on a child is abuse. You can not justify it as anything other than abuse.
And theism deserves the all the bashing it gets. Religion is not benign, it is directly responsible for most of the horrible atrocities committed to other humans, and for the suppression of knowledge, acceptance and understanding of our fellow human apes. It deserves contempt, not acceptance.

Science flies you to the moon, religion flies you into buildings - There are no atheists in terrorist training camps.
Being that I wouldn't allow any thing on my daughter to be pierced until she was old enough to ask for it , make an informed decision, you can imagine what I think of this issue. Having said that, i of course was circumcised, and it never occurred to me ten years ago, to not allow my son to be circumcised. It is a religious rite with no medical value, however it the US the women (and many of the men) prefer a circumcised member. As an adult I hear it is a very painful recuperation period.
I suspect that you are circumcised yourself, and uncomfortable with the thought that this may have been a mistake, or that it may have been wrong for you to do the same to other babies.

Personally, I would rather have both my ears removed than be circumcised, and almost everyone would regard that as mutilation.

Some forms of female circumcision do less damage than the usual form of male circumcision. One just removes the female prepuce (the clitoral hood or female foreskin), so it's the exact equivalent of cutting off a boy's foreskin. In some countries, female circumcision is performed by doctors in operating theatres with pain relief. Conversely, male circumcision is often performed as a tribal practice. When circumstances are similar, so are outcomes, and 22 boys died of circumcision in Eastern Cape Province last year.

Are you aware that the USA also used to practise female circumcision? Fortunately, it never caught on the same way as male circumcision, but there are middle-aged white US American women walking round today with no external clitoris because it was removed. Some of them don't even realise what has been done to them. There are frequent references to the practice in medical literature up until at least 1959. Most of them point out the similarity with male circumcision, and suggest that it should be performed for the same reasons. Blue Cross/Blue Shield had a code for clitoridectomy till 1977.

One victim wrote a book about it:
Robinett, Patricia (2006). "The rape of innocence: One woman's story of female genital mutilation in the USA."

Nowadays, it's illegal even to make an incision on a girl's genitals though, even if no tissue is removed. Why don't boys get the same protection?

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally against female circumcision, and I probably spend a lot more time and money trying to stop it than most people. If people are serious about stopping female circumcision though, they also have to be against male circumcision. Even if you see a fundamental difference, the people that cut girls don't (and they get furious if you call it "mutilation"). The sooner boys are protected from genital mutilation in the west, the sooner those peoples that practice FGM will interpret western objections as something more than hypocritical cultural imperialism.
More comments from various sources including medical ones:

“Foreskin is a very normal part of the human body. It is a very important part throughout life. It’s the right of the child that he should keep his foreskin—it’s not the right of the parents to chop it off.” Dr Philip King, Western Australia, December 1999.
Dr. King continued by saying it was an unnecessary operation performed on babies when they were most vulnerable to infection and bleeding. Only 4 per cent of boys required circumcision for any medical reason—in cases of trauma or infection—but “every year we see babies coming in with circumcision who have nasty infections and require surgery”.

“As to immoral practice, it is hard to imagine anything more grotesque than the mutilation of infant genitalia. Nor is it easy to imagine anything more incompatible with the argument from design. We must assume that a designer god would pay especial attention to the reproductive organs of his creatures, which are so essential for the continuation of his species. But religious ritual . . . has insisted on snatching children from the cradle and taking sharp stones or knives to their pudenda. In some animist and Muslim societies, it is the female babies who suffer the worst, with the excision of labia and the clitoris.” Chistopher Hitchens. God is not Great. 223.

“In other cultures, notably the “Judeo-Christian,” it is the mutilation of small boys that is insisted upon. . . . The shedding of blood—which is insisted upon at circumcision ceremonies—is most probably a symbolic survival from the animal and human sacrifices which were such a feature of the gore-soaked landscape of the Old Testament. By adhering to the practice, parents could offer to sacrifice a part of the child as a stand-in for the whole.” Christopher Hitchens. God is not Great.

Circumcision Resource Center, USA: “Like all professions, medicine has its own ethical code and principles of conduct. One rule of conduct is “First, do no harm.” Removing a normal, healthy body part and causing unnecessary pain is doing harm.
Some doctors who circumcise acknowledge the associated pain and then dismiss it by saying, “It only lasts for a minute,” implying that it is acceptable to subject an infant to unnecessary pain as long as it is temporary. (In one study, the time required for the procedure ranged from six to forty minutes.) However, there is strong evidence that the pain has lasting effects. Even if it did not, this careless attitude about inflicting pain violates the ethical principles of the medical profession. It also violates general moral principles to subject anyone, particularly a defenceless infant, to any unnecessary pain for any period of time.
As recently reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, “Failure to provide adequate control of pain amounts to substandard and unethical medical practice.” Furthermore, circumcision without anesthesia is inconsistent with ethical guidelines that prohibit performing surgical procedures on laboratory animals without anesthesia. Based on these standards and given that there is no effective and safe anesthetic that will eliminate circumcision pain, all circumcisions would be prohibited.
According to the Hippocratic oath, another important principle of medical practice is that the patient’s welfare shall be the doctor’s first consideration.” Circumcision practices defy the oath.

Circumcision is a Choice: Questioning Circumcision, A Jewish Perspective
Like the American cultural practice of circumcision, Jewish circumcision (bris or brit milah) is dependent on the acceptance of cultural myths. Of all the myths that Jews believe about circumcision, the one that is paramount is the belief that all Jews circumcise. With this belief, we put ourselves under tremendous pressure to conform.
Bound by this burden to comply with social expectations, most Jewish parents do not recognize that circumcision is a choice. Since open communication about circumcision is discouraged, there is virtually no awareness of others who feel similar conflicts and doubts around circumcision. Moreover, if a Jewish parent does decide not to circumcise a male child, it is not generally known to the rest of the community. As a result, many parents submit to the pressure and then discover only too late, perhaps after witnessing the circumcision of their son, that they wish they had chosen differently. Some parents report that if they could take back one decision, it would be their son's circumcision.” Jewish Circumcision Resource Center, USA.
FGM is certainly a more heinous mutilation as it has lasting effects beyond appearance. This of course is used to control female sexual appetites. The big three religions are all well aware that if I can control your sex life ,I can control you. Of course controlling, subduing, and subjegating women is also a favorite past time of the desert religions.
Four notes concerning FGM follow here.

1. FGM or Female Genital Mutilation: What this Abominable Procedure is
Author Unknown.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is an invasive and painful surgical procedure that is performed usually without anaesthetic on girls before puberty in some societies.
There are about 100 to 140 million women who have been circumcised.
An average of about four girls a minute continue to be mutilated.

Their clitoris is partially or completely removed. This inhibits or terminates sexual feelings. It has been a social custom in Northern Africa for many centuries.

Ha: A social custom!? And who invented this 'social custom' and why?
Seeing that it could hardly have been women, it must have been men.]

2. [Author unknown]. Many people link FGM with the religion of Islam which means “submission”, but actually it is a social custom practiced by Animists, Christians, and Muslims in those countries where FGM is common. There are many Muslim countries in which the mutilation is unknown. FGM is occasionally performed in North America on girls of families who have emigrated from countries where FGM is common. An analogous practice, Intersexual Genital Mutilation, (IGM) is sometimes performed on intersexual infants—those born with ambiguous genitalia.

3. The Muslim family: predicament and promise
“Female genital tract mutilation is a practice that is carried out in many regions of the world, including some Muslim countries. This practice is most widespread in parts of Africa, stretching in a band from the Horn through Central Africa and extending to parts of Nigeria.
The custom's exact origins are uncertain, but it almost certainly predates the arrival of Christianity and Islam to these regions.
Female genital mutilation is currently illegal in many countries, including Britain and the USA.
The procedure has different forms and is typically done at the age of 6 or 7 years. The least invasive of these involves removing only the prepuce of the clitoris. Removal of the clitoris, or more extensive procedures, is not approved by religious teaching; nonetheless, these extreme practices continue in some Muslim regions largely because of the strong influences of tribal and regional custom and tradition. The most extreme form, infibulation, involves excising the clitoris, the labia minora, and the medial aspect of the labia majora. The sides of the vagina are then sutured, leaving a small opening for the passage of urine and menstrual flow.
An intermediate form involves removing the clitoris either partially or totally, together with a portion of the labia minora. The removal of large amounts of genital tissue can cause considerable problems, including difficulties with micturition, recurrent urinary tract infection, dyspareunia, and dysmenorrhea. The emotional and psychological ramifications of such bodily assault are also now being appreciated.”
Sangeeta Dhami and Aziz Sheikh. West J. Med.. 2000 November; 173(5): 352–356.

4. SWEDEN: Nyamko Sabuni who is of African descent was appointed Minister for Integration and Gender Equality in Sweden in 2006. She has described herself as non-religious.

In an opinion letter published on 17 July 2006 in the Swedish newspaper Expressen, Sabuni called for mandatory gynecological examinations of all schoolgirls in order to prevent genital mutilation (also known as female circumcision).
She has proposed a ban on hijab for girls under 15 and also advocated the inclusion of honor killings as an independent category within the Swedish criminal code.
On 6 October 6 2006, the new Swedish coalition government which emerged from the election announced Sabuni's appointment as the new Minister for Integration and Gender Equality. She is the first person of African descent to be appointed as Minister in a Swedish government.
bravo Sweden!!



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