Bioethics News

UK judge sceptical of circumcision for boys

Boys should not be circumcised until they are old enough to choose for themselves, a British judge has suggested in ruling on custody of two sons of a Muslim man and his estranged wife.

Mrs Justice Roberts, of the Family Division, agreed with the British-born mother of the boys, aged 4 and 6. The Algerian-born husband argued that  “circumcision had both a religious and a social importance which overrode any slight risk which the procedure carried.” He would feel devastated if his sons were not circumcised.  (The names of the people involved were not released.)

The judge’s reasoning echoes arguments made by some bioethicists that circumcision is an unjustifiable violation of a boy’s bodily integrity:

“First and foremost, this is a once and for all, irreversible procedure. There is no guarantee that these boys will wish to continue to observe the Muslim faith with the devotion demonstrated by their father although that may very well be their choice.

“They are still very young and there is no way of anticipating at this stage how the different influences in their respective parental homes will shape and guide their development over the coming years. There are risks, albeit small, associated with the surgery regardless of the expertise with which the operation is performed.

“There must be clear benefits which outweigh these risks which point towards circumcision at this point in time being in their best interests before I can sanction it as an appropriate course at this stage of their young lives.”

The judge stated that she was not setting down a principle about whether Muslims should circumcise their children. 

“I am simply deferring that decision to the point where each of the boys themselves will make their individual choices once they have the maturity and insight to appreciate the consequences and longer term effects of the decisions which they reach.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.