Should Circumcision Be Illegal?

Many have called California the land of the fruits and the nuts. I don’t think it gets any nuttier than trying to pass a law that will make circumcision illegal. Or maybe I am the one that is nuts because the city of San Francisco intends to put a measure on their November 2011 ballot which states it would be illegal to “circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person” under the age of 18. Is it just me or does that sound crazy to you?

What sounds even crazier is that this measure does not provide any religious exemptions. If your child attends public school you must provide proof of immunization which can be waived if you claim a religious exemption. So let me get this straight. I can refuse to immunize my child against measles and spread a potentially serious disease because of religious practices, but I won’t be able to decide if my own child can be circumcised for religious reasons if the ban is passed.

Both the Jewish and Muslim faiths consider circumcision an important ritual. It is customary for 8 day old Jewish males to be circumcised by a mohel during a religious ceremony. If San Francisco passes the ban, anyone who performs circumcision would be charged with a misdemeanor crime which carries penalties of up to $1,000 or a maximum sentence of one year in jail. This includes doctors who perform the procedure.

Apparently thousands of people are on board with thinking that the decision of whether to circumcise a child should be decided by the government instead of the parents who brought him into this world. More than 12,000 signatures were collected in support of the ban, making it a legitimate ballot measure. Supporters of the ban liken circumcision to genital mutilation in girls. However, critics say the ban is an infringement of their rights. The Jewish community intends to fight the ballot measure, stating the ban violates their First Amendment rights to religious freedom.

Even medical authorities do not agree on whether circumcision provides health benefits. The World Health Organization recommends circumcision stating it helps reduce the risk of HIV. Additionally, in 2005, The American Academy of Pediatrics stated their official position is that the procedure reduces the risk of bladder infections and helps prevent sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. However, they went on to say that their data was insufficient to support a recommendation for routine circumcision in newborns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of baby boys in the United States they were circumcised has dropped from 56% in 2006 to about 32% in 2009. This number may be low, however, because it does not take into account circumcisions performed outside of a hospital in a religious ceremony.

Most medical experts do not make a recommendation. Instead, they outline the possible benefits and potential risks, leaving the final decision up to the parents. I think that is the way it should be. And, frankly, I am surprised that San Francisco which is usually considered very forward thinking when it comes to the rights of its citizens, is proposing such a ban.

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