“Like Mother, Like Son”

The relevance of this story to the discussion of non-therapeutic child circumcision is obvious:

A Cobb County mother was charged with misdemeanor child cruelty after she allegedly let her 10-year-old son get a tattoo in memory of his deceased brother, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Police now want to speak with the person who allegedly applied the tattoo to Gaquan.

In Georgia, as it is in 38 other states in the U.S., it’s illegal to tattoo a minor (O.C.G.A. § 16-5-71). I suspect the comment sections on every news outlet reporting this will be filled with outrage that a parent would do this. Surely some of those commenters, like Georgia’s elected officials, support circumcision imposed at the will of parents. The hypocrisy is frustrating because the that level of cognitive dissonance is so bizarre and the challenge to overcome it so difficult.

To be clear, of course tattooing a minor should be illegal. But I’d add the same qualification I apply to non-therapeutic circumcision. If the individual minor consents, the ethical challenge is resolved. Children are not idiots until their 18th birthday. The child in this story consented to his tattoo. Whether the age of consent should be something higher than 10 is a valid question. I side on “higher”, personally, even though I wouldn’t prosecute here. Still, consent matters.

To the extent that the mother, Chuntera Napier, is correct in this case, she is correct for the wrong reason:

“I always thought if a parent gives consent, then it’s fine,” Napier said. “How can somebody else say it’s not OK? He’s my child, and I have a right to say what I want for my child.”

She’s wrong because she implies the same level of parental ownership that society grants with respect to male circumcision. There is no absolute right to do what a parent wants.

In my legally untrained view I think of circumcision as already illegal with an excused, willful lack of enforcement. The same laws that prohibit harming a child by cutting his arm, for example, should also be sufficient to prohibit non-therapeutic genital cutting. I’m unaware of any “genital cutting (on males only)” exemption. Non-therapeutic circumcision is no more “medical” than non-therapeutic female genital cutting is or non-therapeutic child mastectomy would be.

This lack of enforcement permits parents to offer the nonsensical “like father, like son” to excuse non-therapeutic child circumcision. Many in the medical community push this. In this case, the child’s tattoo is intended to memorialize his deceased brother. Napier also has a tattoo memorializing her deceased son. Why isn’t “like mother, like son” acceptable here? Why use multiple ethical frameworks for issues relating to children, if not to cherry-pick for outcome? Because one violation is uncommon and the other is practiced more than one million times each year? I’m curious to know because the answer isn’t logical.

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