The Great Synagogue, Copenhagen

A serious campaign is underway in Scandinavia to ban the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. A Danish doctors’ association says that, unless medically indicated, circumcision is a kind of child abuse. A Swedish medical association recommends setting the minimum age for the procedure at 12 and requiring the boy’s consent. Last September, the Nordic Ombudsmen for Children issued a joint statement declaring non-therapeutic circumcision of boys a violation of international human rights law. Although for now no country seems ready to outlaw the practice, surveys suggest large numbers of Scandinavians would favor a ban.

To put it mildly, a ban on the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys would cause some hardship for Jews and Muslims. At the very least, parents who wished to have their sons circumcised for religious purposes would need to have the circumcisions performed outside their countries–assuming a ban on circumcisions would not also prohibit parents from transporting children for such purposes. Most likely, a ban would simply cause Jews and Muslims to leave Scandinavia in large numbers. In fact, opponents of the ban allege that is its goal.

I doubt that religious bigotry, as such, has much to with it–though anti-Muslim sentiment, at least, is on the rise in Scandinavia, as in much of Europe. Rather, what we’re seeing is a clash of values between a secular worldview that has little patience for traditional religious expression, and the followers of the traditional religions themselves. To put it bluntly, the secular human rights community finds it increasingly difficult to take seriously the arguments traditional religion puts forward, especially when sex is somehow involved.

Here’s an example. Last week, The Copenhagen Post ran an op-ed by Morten Frisch, a doctor and sex researcher who favors a ban. Circumcision, Frisch writes, is problematic not only because it violates a boy’s bodily integrity when he is too young to consent. (Actually, any medical treatment would present that problem). What’s really bad is that circumcision decreases sexual pleasure later in life. “To most Europeans,” Frisch writes, “circumcision is an ethically problematic ritual that is intrinsically harmful to children: every child has the right to protection of his or her bodily integrity and the right to explore and enjoy his or her undiminished sexual capacity later in life.”

What about the fact that Judaism and Islam have required male circumcision for millennia? Isn’t that a factor to consider? You might think that practices that have lasted thousands of years come with some presumption of validity, even if you disagree with them. Millions of people across time have thought such practices important, even sacred. Frisch summarily dismisses these concerns. “Religious arguments,” he writes, “must never trump the protection of children’s basic human rights. To cut off functional, healthy parts of other people’s bodies without their explicit and well-informed consent can never be anybody’s right–religious or otherwise.”

Now, I don’t know whether exploring one’s undiminshed sexual capacity really qualifies as an international human right nowadays; I don’t follow the literature too closely. And this is the first I’ve heard that male circumcision leads to to a decrease in sexual pleasure later in life (I’m not speaking of female circumcision). But let’s assume what Frisch says is correct. The fact that he so impatiently dismisses any hardship a ban would cause traditional religious communities is striking. There is, it seems, simply nothing to be said for traditional practices that violate contemporary norms in this context; the sooner we get rid of them, the better. Frisch’s essay, like the proposed ban itself, is another indication that the clash between religious tradition and secularism is heating up, and that secularism is in little mood to compromise.

25 thoughts on “Banning Circumcision in Scandinavia

  1. Any person of faith who’s had the unpleasant opportunity to have to deal with a militant atheist could have told you how mindlessly intolerant they are. American Christians and Muslims get along a lot better, and those relations are cool at best. We can tolerate the existence of atheists, they have made it plain, the militant ones, they have zero intention of getting along..

    Americans have been universally circumcised for a century, we haven’t found it a terrible burden. There are a small few who complain about it, but it’s a fringe movement here, since circumcision is purely voluntary and not enforced. Most parents prefer the practice for health reasons, as hygiene is more complicated without it. To call it a “human right’ to not have it done seems quite a stretch.

    What is a direct violation of human rights, is the deliberate banning of a deeply held practice for no other reason than the people wanting it banned hate the religious who have them preformed.. The so called “secular” people here are actually practicing their own intolerant form of religion, worship of the state.

    and they allow no exceptions for religious faith.

    Just as Obama here would compel Catholics to fund abortions, when the church has to sue the federal government to uphold a right universally accepted before Obama, you can see how intolerant the “secular” types really are.

  2. Having been circumcised has been shown to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STDs by almost eliminating the anaerobic bacteria that thrive under the foreskin. Too bad these Danish doctors are anti-science and anti-health. The parents of the first boy denied circumcision under such a law should be prepared to sue the doctors at the slightest sign of genital inflammation in the infant.

  3. Please try and replace each of the following word in your statement above for foreskin:

    eyebrow, nosetip, little-toe, earlobe, burn-mark, tattoo, nipple

    do you still agree to your own text? In all cases? should all be legal?

    Why not?

  4. @CoscmicRay those studies have been – through careful scientific studies – to be dubious at best. You get protection from HIV from using a condom. And you need to use a condom for protection against HIV, foreskin or no.

    Even *were* it so, the decision to cut away body parts can easily be made once the boy in question reaches adulthood, becomes sexually active and can choose for himself as is his human right. There is absolutely no reason to cut away body parts without his consent.

    It is not a question of religion. It is not a medical question. It is a question of basic human rights.

  5. @willyword The assault clearly is on the boys who – without their informaed consent – have body parts cut away?

    Cutting away body parts from a human being without his consent is an assault, wouldn’t you say? Or do you disagree?

  6. @Mark Edwards: I think your own Amero-religious-centricism is the only thing on display in your comment. What would you say if a set of parents, as a categorical rule, removed the breast tissues from their infant sons?

    I ask because boys have zero use for their nipples, areola or other breast tissues, and it makes no difference hygenically whether they have them or not, but we don’t allow parents to have doctors remove those tissues, even if there’s risk in their family for male breast cancer (yep, men can get breast cancer).

    If you would feel shocked that parents would do such a thing just to avoid the risk of a staph infection or rash, then there’s no real difference between that and opposing medically unnecessary infant male circumcision, absent hokey religious beliefs.

    Also, before Kellogg encouraged the movement that resulted in nearly universal infant male circumcision, Americans were nearly universally uncircumcised for more than a century and didn’t find it a terrible burden, so your argument from that direction is worthless.

  7. Can anyone here comment on the idea that there is a difference in sexual feelings/pleasure/experience between circumcised and non-circumcised males? Are there any studies out there to this effect? Speaking as circumcised, I have no complaints, but, of course, I have no real way to compare, do I? Any science out there about that specifically? Without that, one has to wonder if the whole “right to explore and enjoy his or her undiminished sexual capacity” is just an excuse to ban it for different reasons entirely (which I strongly suspect).

    It is notable that I have to think circumcision is a religious idea that came about for the same kinds of reasons as did a ban on pork: pre-refrigeration, eating pork had some serious health consequences that would have been little understood, hence the taboo. I have no doubt that, before daily bathing (or weekly for that matter), there were probably issues down there that might compromise fertility (a mighty big issue for most of human existence), hence the practice and it’s religious element. So it may very well be unnecessary today, but hardly necessary for the state to get all statey-state about it…. yet again.

  8. If this isn’t anti-Semitic, then a ban on single-sex marriage isn’t anti-gay. After all, both straights and gays are forbidden from marrying members of the same sex: the fact that it’s central to the lifestyle of one group is glossed over.

  9. This is not about getting rid of Muslims. They will not enforce it against Muslims because they know of the violence that will ensue. This is purely about Jew-hatred, a hatred that has manifested itself due to the virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes found in Scandinavia, especially today on the hard left.

  10. I’m certainly not impressed with these Scandinavian medical associations. Do they also intend to ban abortions until the child reaches twelve and can give consent? Probably not. And keep in mind that an abortion is not exactly of therapeutic benefit to the child.

    There’s another inconsistency. If one parent, the mother, can provide the consent for a abortion, then why can’t both parents consent to a circumcision? That certainly seems logical.

    The answer’s not hard to see. Just like circumcision is a sacred rite in Judaism and Islam, abortion has become a sacred rite in modern secularism. (And sex is secularism’s enjoy-it-now heaven, but that’s another story.)

    There’s a reason almost all religions tend to be more tolerant than secularism. They recognize that they are belief systems and thus recognize unbelief in others. The great problem with secularism is that it doesn’t regard itself as a belief system and thus does recognize any rights of non-believers be they Christians, Jews or Muslims.

    I saw that years ago when I was waiting the Jerusalem bus station just before Passover, nibbling from a loaf of bread. A little Orthodox boy came up to me and said, “Lo leaven, lo leaven, Pesach.” I knew precisely what he was saying, “No leaven bread, it’s Passover.” Sadly, at the time I knew no better than to ignore him. All I actually needed to say was “Ani lo Jehuid,” meaning “I am not Jewish.”

    Imagine yourself a German in Nazi Germany who refuses to give the Hitler salute, instead saying, “I am not a Nazi.” Would that keep you out of a concentration camp? Hardly. Now imagine yourself a Jew in next year’s Sweden who wants to circumcise your son like your ancestors have done back 150 generations.” Is it enough to say, “I am not a secularist.” Not at all. It’ll be prison time or a huge fine for you because you’re refusing to recognize the One True Faith of Secularism.

    Also notice too the illogic of abortion as a near sacred rite but circumcision as a crime. That makes mysteries like the Christian Trinity look like iron-clad logic. Secularism isn’t even a rational faith.

    –Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

  11. “What about the fact that Judaism and Islam have required male circumcision for millennia? Isn’t that a factor to consider? You might think that practices that have lasted thousands of years come with some presumption of validity, even if you disagree with them.”
    Why might you think that? Do you think arranged marriages, child brides, child labour, slavery or the second-rate citizenship of women have any presumption of validity? Female genital cutting (in some areas at a low level of severity quite comparable to male genital cutting) is endorsed by much of Islam. All lasted for thousands of years, all were endorsed (or ignored) by religion – and all are now recognised as human rights abuses, at least in the secular west.

    The “hardship” for Jewish and Muslim adults is nothing more than not cutting genitals. More and more Jewish boys and men are intact and experience no hardship, taking their place at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings like anyone else. As one rabbi said, “We don’t check.”

    “Mark Edwards: “Americans have been universally circumcised for a century…” No, the rate was only in the 90%s in the mid 1950s. It’s now in the 50%s and falling.
    “circumcision is purely voluntary and not enforced.” Huh? On children it is ALWAYS enforced.
    “Most parents prefer the practice for health reasons,”
    The health reasons were invented after circumcision had already become customary for anti-sexual reasons.
    “as hygiene is more complicated without it.” It could hardly be less complicated, and the same argument would justify cutting parts off girls.

    CosmicRay: HIV and STDs are hardly reasons to cut parts off newbon babies. Any man who thinks those are sufficient reasons is free to have it done to himself. Our whole bodies are teeming with bacteria, and they can be readily controlled with soap and water. Again, you could cut girls by the same logic. 2,000,000,000 men in the world have all our parts, and the vast majority never have “genital inflammations” – which can be treated when they do.

    It is always sad, but sadly common, to see religious people falling behind the infidels on basic human rights issues.

  12. Cutting parts of children’s generals off is child abuse, a rather severe form of child abuse. Countless children have died or been severely damaged by forced genital cutting. It is long overdue to protect children’s rights to physical integrity. Religions can and do adjust to change. This is an issue of human rights, of children’s rights. Sanity and common sense will ultimately prevail.

  13. Male circumcision is a trivial issue from the medical standpoint. I find it bizarre that so many people are obsessed with this to the point that Jews and Muslims cannot practice their faith. I am circumcised and I have no idea why. I am mildly curious as to what life would be like with a foreskin but this matter has nothing to do with my happiness and fulfillment. If I could bring my parents back to life, there are many things I would ask them but I can’t imagine bringing this up.

  14. Andrew X
    Taylor found a ridged band of highly innervated that runs round the inside of the foreskin near the tip, beginning and ending at the frenulum, which circumcised men (but only they) call “the male G-spot”.
    Taylor, J.P., A.P. Lockwood and A.J.Taylor
    The prepuce: Specialized mucosa of the penis and its loss to circumcision
    Journal of Urology (1996), 77, 291-295

    Sorrels et al found that “circumcision ablates [removes] the most sensitive part of the penis”
    Sorrells ML, Snyder JL et al
    Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis
    BJU International 99 (4), 864-869

    Frisch et al. found greater sexual problems in circumcised men and their partners than in intact men and theirs.
    Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M.
    Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark.
    Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 14.

    Any intact man who has considered the matter (and many never need to) can tell you that his foreskin is vital to his full sexual functioning. Men circumcised in adulthood compare the difference to going colourblind – a difference of quality, not quantity, that infant-circumcised men can never comprehend.

    Michael Perry:
    Abortion is a red herring, a debate about when in pregnancy human rights emerge. Whenever that is, they do not END at birth.
    “There’s a reason almost all religions tend to be more tolerant than secularism. They recognize that they are belief systems and thus recognize unbelief in others.” This concept is VERY recent – the Inquisition anyone? – and orthodox Islam does not recognise it yet, considering us all to be latent Muslims and converts to Islam to be “reverts”.
    This debate is around the rights of the child. When you say “Now imagine yourself a Jew in next year’s Sweden who wants to circumcise your son” where are the son’s rights? He may grow up to want to be circumcised, we have no way of knowing that (he probably won’t), and we certainly can not assume it.

  15. James Loewen seems to be forgetting the context, losing a bit of skin to gain well-established health benefits hardly ranks as child abuse, much less a “rather severe form of child abuse.”

    Other surgeries with far less clear benefits are often left to a parent’s choice. Some of the day surgery I participated in, tubes to drain a child’s ear passages, were as much to make life easier for the parents as for the child. The same can be said for some tonsillectomies.

    And that’s not getting into all the drugging of kids (mostly boys) to make them more passive in school. We know the long-term impact of circumcision (roughly a 40% less chance of getting AIDS). We have no idea what the impact of those drugs will be, but I doubt anyone thinks they will be good.

    Sweden would also do well to display more modesty when it comes to medical ethics. Historically, few countries displayed more zeal for eugenics, including forced sterilization and eugenic abortions. If I recall correctly, while many other countries backed away after the terrible Nazi experience, the Swedes continue to sterilize until the 1970s.

    Last but far from least, never forget that, in a medical context, severe child abuse is reserved almost exclusively for abortion, a medical procedure these medical societies don’t seem intent on declaring illegal.

    We might even wonder what would happen if some religious group tweaked the timing of circumcision. Rather than waiting 8 days after birth like Jews do, suppose they manipulate that little boy in the womb so he comes out breech and then delayed delivery for a few moments to perform a circumcision? Then the procedure wouldn’t be on a baby boy but on a fetus and hence, in their minds, just a part of mommy. If she says OK, then the politically correct (and religiously spiteful) would have to say it’s OK wouldn’t they?

    Maybe not. Logic doesn’t seem to be their strong suit.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of:
    * Eugenics and Other Evils by G. K. Chesterton
    * The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective by numerous authors

  16. Abortion is not a “Red Herring.” The closest parallel to it, and one that also invokes claims of ownership and a subhuman status, are those we in the U.S. debated a century and a half ago. I know. I’ve spent the last few months adapting an 1879 novel set in North Carolina for a young adult audience. The arguments for slavery and abortion are almost identical. Even the party of evil is the same in both case–the Democrats. Surely you’re not going to claim that in 1860 the debate over slavery was a Red Herring to distract attention away from import duties on kitchenware.

    Your remark that the rights of a child “do not END at birth” seem rather strange, since that’s precisely where in the U.S. the rights of a child began. For a last trimester abortion under Roe, the doctor must merely assert that some reason for the abortion exists.

    Logic would suggest that, if the child has little or no rights in the womb, then he (or she) only acquires minimal rights for years afterword. In fact, one of the primary arguments for abortion, non-viability, is as true after birth as before. If before birth being dependent on the care of others means giving those others the right to abort, then after birth, it would seem, there’s ample room for a surgery than any layperson can be trained to perform in a few hours.

    There’s also a host of absurdities attached to this matter. Given a choice as early as six and as late as high school, as to whether I would like to be:

    1. Circumcised at birth.

    2. Forced to attend public school seven hours a day for nine months out of the year.

    I’d have clearly opted for the first. I have no bad memories of it. I have very unpleasant memories of the dull education the State forced on an unwilling me.

    Ah, you say, but there are long term benefits to attending school. Not as many as you might assume. I was often so far ahead of my class, that school was a droning bore. I could have easily taught myself, though some aids, all I was learning and have many hours left for play or for studying things I found more interesting.

    So what is it? In Sweden you have a state mandating years of schooling and a host of other often miserable activities on an unwilling child and yet claiming that a procedure whose pain lasts seconds and is soon forgotten, is something terrible. And surely you aren’t going to deny that all that forced schooling doesn’t alter and perhaps harm a child’s personality.

    Modern, secular liberalism wants the state to dictate, to regulate, to control through regulations so extensive they fill tens of thousands of pages with complex, bureaucratic language. And yet in some tiny, almost prissy areas, liberals sudden leap up and start talking choice and freedom. It’s ridiculous.

    Sorry, but until liberals in America, Sweden and elsewhere reduce the rules and regulations they want to impose on us as part of their secularized faith to perhaps two or three typed pages in plain English, I don’t see any reason to take them seriously.

    Obamacare is an excellent illustration. The administration wants to force Catholic nuns to pay for abortions and yet at the same time it denies to tens of millions of Americans the right to choose the insurance policies, the doctors, and the hospitals they want.

    Sorry, but the level of hypocrisy going on here is rapidly approaching infinity. An extreme libertarian might be able to extend their nothing-forced beliefs into early childhood. They’d at least be being consistent. But no one who believes in a modern regulatory state has a right to talk about extending merely hypothetical freedoms into infancy while denying far more extensive and far more meaningful freedoms to thinking adults, particularly in matters as significant as their health care choices.

    –Michael W. Perry, Lily’s Ride: Saving Her Father from the Ku Klux Klan (to be released in February)

  17. Hugh7,

    Why is abortion a red herring? It seems perfectly legitimate to bring this up within this conversation. Jews typically circumcise their children 8 days after birth and yet, 16 days prior to that date, many would find it perfectly legitimate to end that child’s life. There is an incongruity of logic there. How can you profess to be so concerned about a child’s well being when less than a month before you essentially denied them personhood.It makes your arguments seem insincere at best and at worst motivated by a distaste for religious practices.

    You also seem unconcerned about the impact of HIV or STDs. I am curious if you would be for forcing parents to give their children the HPV vaccination. I mean, if 9% of the children who are given the vaccine suffer serious side effects you must be against it, correct? Why should a parent potentially endanger their child just to combat an STD?

  18. @Michael W. Perry
    The comparison with abortion is bogus.

    Assuming your point valid, the child has human rights from the moment of conception. It’s a valid opinion. However it would follow that a boy child also has a right to decide over his own penis as well as any other body part? From the moment of conception? And thus that cutting away parts of him without his own full and informed consent violates his rights?

    Otherwise you and I are now arguing which human rights are granted when from conception and until adulthood. I believe that from day X in pregnancy (subject to local laws) the child has full rights. You seem to believe that is not the case? That the child gets full rights from day 0 EXCEPT for his penis?


    Strange, but true.

  19. @Michael Lorton
    If you really want to compare the situation with anything involving marriage, the correct comparison is between forced circumsicion and forced marriage.

    Wikipedia: “Forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both of the parties is married without his or her consent …”

    I do believe that with under age circumsicion, the cutting away is done without his consent, don’t you?

  20. If NOT being circumcised is a human right because of lack of consent, is not being aborted a right for the same reason?

  21. There were three recent randomized studies of circumcision in adults as a preventive measure for HIV transmission. The studies looked at sexual function and pleasure as a secondary measure, and found no difference. (Such randomized studies are the gold standard for medical information.) One might conjecture that, a fortiori, infant circumcision, a less painful and much safer procedure, is unlikely to have sexual effects. Or else, one can look at the only large cohort study, which showed the same thing. No randomized trials have been conducted on effects of infant circumcision on sexuality, as they would take many years to complete.

    There are citations of some of this work in Jacobs A.J., The ethics of circumcision of male infants. 15 Israel Medical Association Journal 60 (2013), which is readily accessible on line..

  22. How does Lorensen feel about dental extractions for aesthetic orthodontia, giving short boys growth hormones so they won’t be short any more, ear piercing of minors, breast implants on minors (common in the US, and much more dangerous than circumcision), removing harmless 6th fingers, or correcting harelip that does not interfere with nutrition? The kids can decide to have these done at age 18 with no threat to their health.

    Should these be banned, or just minority practices?

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