Flawed Circumcision Defense: Daulton Gatto defends Mike Gatto (no relation)

Posted: July 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, First Amendment, Law, Logic, Politics | 4 Comments »

Remember back to the ballot initiative in San Francisco that sought to protect the same genital integrity rights for boys in San Francisco that are already protected for girls throughout America. In response to that, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto drafted a bill in 2011, AB768, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law that October. That’s when I wrote about Mike Gatto:

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto is an authoritarian. He believes that male children do not have human rights equal to the rights of their fellow citizens. Mike Gatto believes that freedom and liberty involve parental ownership of the genitals of their male children. He believes that the individual right involved in child genital cutting is exclusively the right to cut a male child without medical need. He believes that subjective, non-medical “affiliative benefits” are enough to justify surgery on a child, even if the child does not or might not want to be forcibly affiliated. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto prefers mindless, unquestioned deference to parental choices about non-therapeutic male child genital cutting.

California already established that there is no arbitrary, unspecified age before which parents own the genitals of their female children. They may not allow someone to take a scalpel to the genitals of their daughters for non-therapeutic reasons, even if those reasons include a parental preference for forced “affiliative benefits.” The only factor involved in any decision to cut female minors is the presence or lack of medical need. That is the ethical, scientific view, which succinctly demonstrates that genital integrity exists within human rights. Mike Gatto believes that male children have only a mere subset of human rights, a subset that does not include genital integrity. It is a flaw in his character that Mike Gatto believes the full range of human rights only belong to male adults, female adults, and female children.

That is still accurate upon current reflection almost three years later. Look at the bill proposed and signed into law. It states that “[m]ale circumcision has a wide array of health and affiliative benefits.” Even if the first argument is assumed robust and true, discussion of the risks and costs of circumcision is nowhere to be found. Gatto, those who voted for it, and Gov. Brown all willingly enacted propaganda into law. Without a full consideration of what’s involved, including costs and the implications to human rights, they abdicated their responsibility to represent the interests and rights of every California citizen in favor of only those with power. That was, and remains, unethical.

Yesterday, I received a comment (#4 on the post) and pingback on that article from Daulton Gatto, who states that he is unrelated to Mike Gatto. The best writing is brief, so in that respect, Gatto’s comment succeeds. He uses the first twelve words of his comment to offer a brilliant insight into its author. Bravo.

The pingback is to his blog post, And Now, Another Episode of “Mike Gatto vs. the Bizarre Foreskin Crusaders”, which is in response to “Flawed Circumcision Defense: California Assemblyman Mike Gatto”. It’s a pretty good troll job, with plenty of ad hominem and not a word of rebuttal to my criticism of Mike Gatto’s flawed argument. It’s impressive. I suspect he’s having a laugh to amuse himself. Whatever. Taking it “seriously” will be interesting. The relevant part (graphic, immature, dudebro language, but you probably guessed that):

Which brings me to this piece of shit blog post, written by some crackpot wacko identified only as “Tony.” Tony is evidently a large pussy and a giant douchebag too frightened to admit full authorship of his own work and too stupid to employ anything resembling sound logic in his juvenile and laughable arguments. I will let his barely comprehensible babbling speak for itself while I cackle in laughter at the very suggestion that “Tony” is capable of recognizing a flawed argument in the first place.

In the meantime, I just want to once again explain on behalf of Mike Gatto and whatever cool dudes are still left in this douchebaggy world we live in just why it is that foreskin sucks and isn’t sweet at all.

Chicks much prefer dudes with circumcised dicks. Circumcised dicks get more pussy and they get to jizz on more chicks’ big tits. That’s a proven scientific fact. Mike Gatto, as a well-established sweet dude and charismatic stud, is clearly working harder to ensure the next generation of Californians get to fuck as many of the hot-ass chicks walking around this state as possible.

Now please tell me, “Tony,” just what the hell is wrong with that?

I’m not convinced by that long-winded version of “nuh-uh”. But it’s still sweet trolling ad hominem.

There is a question for me at the end. So, Daulton, just what the hell is wrong with that? You haven’t linked to anything suggesting this stunted fantasy is a scientific fact. Generalizations based on whatever gave you that limited worldview don’t eliminate the risks or direct harms from circumcision. They don’t discredit the human rights principle already in California law. You haven’t made any argument applicable to anyone other than yourself or someone who shares your particular preferences. That isn’t a valid basis for laws permitting the violation of the rights of others.

You did manage to link to a circumcision fetish website. It’s the same site with a history of endorsing¹ female genital cutting as a fetish. Good job.

If you have a coherent rebuttal, I’m willing to listen. If you only have more ad hominem, I’m always up for another good laugh. If your trolling was a limited, one-time engagement, thanks!

¹ The Internet is forever, no matter how vigorously Circlist’s operator(s) tried to hide the past with the content you see today. I’ll guess that research is a mysterious stranger to you. Convince me I shouldn’t guess that.


The AAP Worsens Its Flawed Circumcision Position

Posted: August 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, FCD, First Amendment, Hygiene, Law, Logic, Media Marketing, Mission, Pain, Parenting, Politics, Public Health, Science, STD | 2 Comments »

A lot has already been said about the AAP’s revised policy statement on non-therapeutic circumcision on non-consenting male children.

More will be said today and beyond. Much of it will be uncritical regurgitations of the AAP’s revision by news organizations. There will also be analysis from those who recognize and highlight the glaring deficincies and oversights in the policy. I expect to contribute my own thoughts. For now, I’ll highlight one key aspect from my initial read-through before going into what I think is a more important consideration to this apparent-but-not-really temporary setback.

The short version of the statement ends with this (emphasis added):

Parents ultimately should decide whether circumcision is in the best interests of their male child. They will need to weigh medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical, and cultural beliefs and practices. The medical benefits alone may not outweigh these other considerations for individual families.

That’s so close to the ethical stance. Remove families and focus on the individual and it would be ethical¹.

The way the promoted portion of the new “finding” within the revised statement differs from this conclusion is the key takeaway to challenge the supposed change from the AAP, which is really more-or-less just an exercise in urging politicians to permit circumcision on Medicaid. Here, the AAP demonstrates that its evaluation of the net benefit, that possible benefits outweigh the risks, is subjective and determined only by individuals. This directly contradicts the supposed proof based on their review of research that the potential benefits outweigh the risks (and the costs – the direct harm in every case – that they ignore). We should repeatedly emphasize that as often as necessary.

My concern is that we’ll get stuck in this low-level, short-term portion of the larger debate. It’s clear from European medical associations and courts that the eventual destination is public policy against non-therapeutic circumcision. The AAP and American society, in general, are (inexcusably) behind. But both will get there. Activists for the rights of children can make that happen sooner than it otherwise might happen.

The key is that we must give people the opportunity to save face, to avoid digging in to protect their egos. The problem is their stance, not necessarily their character. It should be obvious to them that their stance is incorrect. It isn’t. To address that, do we want to express an irrelevant, limited sense of superiority or convince others that we’re correct because facts and ethics demonstrate the case we’re making? If we impugn their motives and/or character by choosing the former, we may extend the period during which this policy statement stands or encourage people who can be influenced either way to choose the inferior stance of the AAP.

Edit note: I changed “it’s” to “their stance” to avoid possible confusion.

¹ The existing societal view treats certain basic human rights – for boys only – as a buffet from which parents may pick and choose for their own reasons. This is the problem merely expressed within the AAP’s policy statement.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Yair Rosenberg, Part 2

Posted: August 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, FCD, First Amendment, HIV, Media Marketing, Parenting, Public Health, Science | No Comments »

In response to the AAP’s pending release of its revised policy statement on non-therapeutic male child circumcision, Yair Rosenberg repeats the mistakes in his prior analysis. He perpetuates appeals to authority, omits relevant information, and ignores inconvenient facts. One might even say he’s being obscurantist.

This isn’t just an issue of religious freedom—it’s a basic question of public health. That’s because according to the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization, among others, circumcision is one of the global health community’s best HIV prevention techniques. As Eric Goosby, the U.S. AIDS coordinator, has said, “Male circumcision is a highly significant, lifetime intervention. It is the gift that keeps on giving. It makes sense to put extraordinary resources into it.” To that end, anti-AIDS organizations are partnering to circumcise 20 million African men by 2015. …

Until now, the scientific consensus surrounding circumcision has driven policy in Africa, but not the United States. Today, that changes.

Individual humans make up “public health”. What is – and is not – acceptable to do to individual bodies in the name of public health is the question of ethics that Rosenberg, Goosby, the AAP, and every other circumcision advocate ignores. This is especially true because circumcision is not the least invasive or the most effective method available for reducing HIV (or any other) risk. It’s also still not particularly useful in contexts outside of parts of Africa. As I wrote in my prior post, the risk reduction is in female-to-male HIV transmission in high-risk populations. That isn’t compelling within the scope of the AAP’s focus. Context matters. Obscurantist journalists ignore that.

The importance of this [updated policy] cannot be overstated. …

It can be. Rosenberg’s post is proof.

… The AAP is a driving force behind health policy in America, and the experts involved in its new statement are already going on record in major media outlets to advocate that circumcision be covered on public health plans like Medicaid. The statement solidifies the scientific consensus behind the advisability of infant male circumcision (noting that complications are more likely to arise when the procedure is performed later in life) and places the traditional practice squarely within the realm of sound medical science.

This is only true if ethical considerations are not a part of sound medical science. It’s fine if Rosenberg or others do not wish for ethics to be applied to their own bodies. But not everyone shares that odd, limited view. Some of us appreciate the basic concept of human rights, including those of physical integrity and self-determination, and wish they had been applied to us. It’s too late for too many males, but there is never a bad time to stop violating human rights.

Also, the question of possible benefits and their applicability to any particular individual is separate from the public policy question of paying for non-therapeutic surgical interventions on non-consenting individuals. Non-therapeutic infant circumcision is an irresponsible use of funds in pursuit of subjective goals via unethical means. There is nothing good about it, regardless of how “prestigious” an organization promoting the idea is irrationally perceived to be. An organization that advocates violating human rights deserves no prestige.

This is not just good news for the United States, where obscurantist anti-circumcision groups have sought to completely ban this medically beneficial practice rather than allow families to choose whether to perform it. …

Rosenberg’s prior essay was obscurantist propaganda. Unlike his writing, I’ve acknowledged the arguments offered in favor of circumcision. I’ve explained why they’re inferior in the debate as it pertains to individuals. Mr. Rosenberg has not done the same. Instead, he offers condescending evasions:

… It’s also a powerful rebuttal to the flawed reasoning of the German court in Cologne, which ruled that circumcision generally constitutes “bodily harm,” yet made allowances for circumcisions performed for “medical reasons.” Thanks to the AAP, we can now state that all circumcisions are medically beneficial. …

The German court in Cologne ruled that non-therapeutic circumcision on non-consenting children violates their rights to physical integrity and self-determination. There is no flaw in that expression of basic human rights. The are the same rights that form the basis for prohibitions on FGC/M.

The court’s finding that circumcision constitutes bodily harm, no quotes, is consistent with permitting circumcision for medical need. The existence of a problem necessitates considering interventions. Ethically proxy consent will choose the least invasive, most effective solution. That is rarely circumcision when there is a need. But where it is necessary, the goal is an objective net benefit, that the surgery will remedy the problem. The outcome is presumed to outweigh the harm imposed to achieve it. The key is the outcome can be measured immediately and directly. Is the malady resolved?

With non-therapeutic circumcision, there is no objective net benefit because there is no malady. There is only objective harm for subjective benefits. The subjective benefits may not be valued or desired by the individual. In that case it’s objective harm to the individual for the subjective preferences of another. That is unethical. Because surgery on children involves proxy consent, medical need is required. The court was correct and consistent. The AAP is incorrect and encouraging unethical rights violations.

So, can we really state that all circumcisions are medically beneficial? Including the ones where the boy suffers a complication? If he loses his glans, is he still benefited? What about his entire penis? What about the thankfully rare instances where the boy loses his life? At least the benefits accrued over his short lifetime? Since all of these scenarios happen, even if we ignore my focus on individuals who suffer only the expected harm, isn’t it a bit obscurantist to state that all circumcisions are medically beneficial?

… If German courts continue to prosecute Jews and Muslims for practicing circumcision, then we will know that this animus is rooted not in science or fact, but in ignorance and prejudice.

I won’t say I expected his screed to end with something other than a preemptive ad hominem attack. It’s still pathetic.

Update: Walter Russell Mead uncritically endorses Rosenberg’s flawed post and makes a request:

Hopefully anti-circumcision zealots will take a deep breath and rethink their fevered stance on the issue. Beyond the fact that their bans impinge on the rights of Jews and Muslims to practice their religion as they see fit, they ought to consider that there is legitimate science pointing to the practice being beneficial to infant male health.

The only legitimate science involving infants is on UTIs, and possibly penile cancer. The former are uncommon in intact males in the first year (1%) and almost always easily treatable. The latter is more reasonably associated with other causes, with U.S. rates similar to those in mostly intact Europe. Everything else involves adult volunteers. The possibility of health benefits, or even religious benefits, does not render non-therapeutic circumcision on a child ethical.

No court in the United States endorses a right to practice one’s religion as members “see fit”. There are limits that may be imposed based on constitutional tests. Non-therapeutic child circumcision should fail that test because it is physical harm.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Wesley J. Smith

Posted: August 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, First Amendment, Law, Parenting, Politics | 1 Comment »

The Norwegian ombudsman for children’s rights recently stated about ritual circumcision:

[Pediatrician] Dr. Anne Lindboe told the newspaper Vart Land last month that circumcision in boys was a violation of a person’s right to decide over his own body. “Muslim and Jewish children are entitled to the same protection as all other children,“ she said. She added that the practice caused unnecessary pain and was medically unbeneficial.

The children’s ombudsman is an independent governmental institution entrusted with safeguarding the rights of minors.

Yes. Her statement is similar to the ruling from Cologne that non-therapeutic child circumcision violates the child’s rights to bodily integrity and self-determination.

That logical statement is meeting resistance. Over at Secondhand Smoke, which claims to be a “24/7 Seminar on Bioethics and the Importance of Being Human”, Wesley Smith revealed that he doesn’t much understand how non-therapeutic circumcision involves bioethics¹ or that having a normal anatomical body part is part of being human. In response to Dr. Lindboe, he wrote:

First, circumcision after the start of puberty is far more risky and complicated than infant circumcision. …

Perhaps. It’s also unlikely to be necessary later. The real consideration is between guaranteed pain and harm from the unnecessary surgery on an infant and it being riskier and more complicated as an adult in the unlikely event it’s needed. If a male chooses non-therapeutic circumcision, ritual or not, as an adult, he is expressing that he values the possible benefits more than the risks. Consent is the issue. (There are also advantages to waiting, such as not needing to forcibly separate the foreskin from the glans and having a larger penis to better measure how much skin to remove.)

He continues:

… But more fundamentally, religious liberty is one of the world’s most important freedoms. …

Yes, but there are other freedoms, such as the rights to bodily integrity and self-determination. They’re also important. And children possess their own individual right to religious freedom.

… For you secularists who don’t care, it seems to me that means that you only care about liberties you want for yourselves–which isn’t freedom at all.

First, that’s ad hominem. Second, he’s wrong. It’s possible to care about many freedoms at the same time, and for all people equally, including children. It’s possible for secularists to care about religious liberty possessed by parents while recognizing the ethical flaws inherent in non-therapeutic child circumcision that place the surgery outside the scope of individual religious liberty for parents.

The attack he perceives is misunderstood. (See also.) An attack on religious freedom would require an effort to prohibit religious circumcision, full stop. The current facts have been presented that way, which is incorrect (for whatever reason that misrepresentation occurs). The effort here is to prohibit non-therapeutic circumcision on a child who can’t consent. It aims to leave each child with his choice. He retains his right to have himself circumcised for religious (and/or non-religious) reasons. He may exercise his freedom of religion rather than having it exercised for him by his parents.

This necessary change will require religion to accommodate a different understanding of religion’s interaction with individual civil rights. That can and should be debated. As evidenced by Mr. Smith’s words, he hasn’t engaged that debate yet.

But if we believe that religious liberty is fundamental–it is, after all, a core part of the Universal Declaration on Human rights–then Jews and Muslims have a right to circumcise their children. [ed. note: males only?] Indeed, it is a religious imperative. …

It’s consistent to believe that religious liberty is fundamental and that no one has a right to circumcise their healthy children. It may be an imperative, but that alone grants no right.

Here is another core part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (emphasis added):

Article 1.

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Mr. Smith writes as if other rights aren’t implicated by the exercise of religious freedom. The rights expressed earlier, and clearly, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are strikingly similar to those expressed by the District Court of Cologne and Dr. Anne Lindboe. It is clear that he is wrong rather than those with whom he disagrees.

To close he cites this essay by David P. Goldman, which deserves a post of its own rather than an analysis here. After the excerpt, Smith writes:

It doesn’t matter whether the Norway ombudsman or any of us agree. Circumcision is a sacred duty for Jews, a rite that brings the infant into the community. I assume the same is true for Muslims. In the name of freedom, government must leave it alone.

In the name of freedom, a legitimate government must protect the rights of all citizens equally. Because non-therapeutic child circumcision violates various rights of the child and inflicts permanent physical harm in every instance, prohibition is the only means to promote individual freedom. That is the proper role of government.

¹ The issue is more complicated than parental intent or imperative because there are competing rights. It’s further complicated because very few advocates of circumcision acknowledge what the surgery does to the (healthy) child.


Reading the Cologne Court’s Words

Posted: July 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, First Amendment, Law, Logic, Parenting, Politics | No Comments »

Since the recent ruling against non-therapeutic child circumcision by the Cologne district court, many have spoken out against it and claimed various and potentially extreme results that will flow from it. Some of these complaints are legitimate. As I previously wrote, there are issues offered by proponents of ritual child circumcision that deserve to be taken seriously. Asking people to let go of something they intensely value is asking them to bear costs, even if it should be clear that avoiding objective harm to the child must be stressed more. (That post is coming.)

Still, what I haven’t seen yet is the opposite view. I haven’t seen a single example of someone who supports legally-protected ritual child circumcision accurately acknowledge the court’s ruling as it was written, rather than using a selective reading, to defend the practice. (If someone has seen an example of a proper acknowledgement, please link it in the comments.) The closest I’ve seen comes from Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, but he only built and defeated a straw man. Near his conclusion, he wrote:

That is what the court in Cologne has done. It has declared that circumcision is an assault on the rights of the child since it is performed without his consent. It ignored the fact that if this is true, teaching children to speak German, sending them to school and vaccinating them against illness are all assaults against the rights of the child since they are done without consent. The court’s judgement was tendentious, foolish and has set a dangerous precedent.

The issue of consent is only part of the court’s ruling. The child’s lack of consent factored because of what was being done to him. The court evaluated the act first. From an English translation of the ruling, found here:

… since the parents’ right to religious upbringing of their children, when weighed against the right of the child to physical integrity and to self-determination, has no priority, and consequently their consent to the circumcision conflicts with the child’s best interests. …

Circumcision violates the child’s (right to) physical integrity. Consequently, parental consent conflicts with the child’s rights, including his right to consent or to refuse. Contrary to Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks’ statement, the court did not imply parenting is now illegal. It made the necessary distinction to limit the ruling to non-therapeutic child circumcision.

… There was consent by the parents, but this was not capable of justifying the commission of the elements of bodily harm.

And:

… The parents’ fundamental rights under Article 4 (1), 6 (2) of the Basic Law (Grundgesetz, GG) in turn are limited by the fundamental right of the child to physical integrity and self-determination under Article 2 (1) and (2) sentence 1 GG. …

There are two rights involved. The right to physical integrity and the right to self-determination (i.e. consent). A complete attempt at a rebuttal requires acknowledging both.

An insufficient response such as that by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks is not unique. Consider:

Muslim leaders joined the Jewish groups in their condemnation of the ruling. Ali Demir, chairman of the Islamic Religious Community in Germany, described circumcision as “a harmless procedure that has thousands of years of tradition and a high symbolic value.

There are also Christian (and probably secular) advocates who mistakenly defend circumcision as a parental right based on, but not limited to, their religious freedom. However, they all ignore, minimize, or fail to understand that circumcision, like all surgery, is not physically harmless to the child.

As the court stated, “the child’s body is permanently and irreparably changed by the circumcision.” Harm and its link to consent are the issues. Circumcision¹ inflicts harm, despite the presumed good intentions of parents. Only the individual directly affected can evaluate whether or not this objective physical harm is good, bad, or neutral for himself, permanently. Only he can decide whether or not he consents to this intrusion on his physical integrity. That is what the court ruled, not the convenient straw men floating around as a defense against the equal rights of children.

¹ Here I refer only to ritual and non-ritual non-therapeutic circumcision. Proxy consent for therapeutic circumcision requires further analysis and can be justified, although it also inflicts harm.


Strong and Non-Conflicting Evidence

Posted: July 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", FCD, FGM, First Amendment, Law, Logic, Parenting | No Comments »

A few days ago in the Huffington Post Canada, Sheryl Saperia defended non-therapeutic male child circumcision against the German court ruling. The title of her essay is “Male Circumcision is Not Mutilation, Period.” She is wrong.

After a bit of setup, she states:

For instance, neither the right to security of the person nor to gender equality should operate in such a way as to proscribe male circumcision on the grounds that it is comparable to the justifiably prohibited custom of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The two are ethically comparable. They are both non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual. That’s the comparison. It applies to every scenario.

But ignore the comparison. She’s jumping to the “FGM is worse, so male circumcision is okay” defense. Truncate her statement to the minimum necessary facts to understand male circumcision and the content of the ruling. Do male infants have the right to security of person? Assuming she answers correctly, that males possess this right, then non-therapeutic circumcision violates that. It is surgery, and without the recipient’s consent. It inflicts harm. Sometimes that harm is greater than what is expected, and in thankfully-rare instances, it can be fatally so. But it always involves harm. The right to be secure in one’s person should include protection from unnecessary, unwanted harm for all children.

She continues:

FGM is sometimes termed female circumcision, but this is a misnomer as it implies a minor operation equivalent to male circumcision. According to Doriane Coleman, a Duke University law professor whose expertise is children and the law, “This analogy can and has been rejected as specious and disingenuous, as the traditional forms of FGM are as different from male circumcision in terms of procedure, physical ramifications, and motivation as ear piercing is to a penilectomy.”

The term female circumcision is a misnomer for semantic reasons, but also because, as she indicates, it fails to fully explain what FGM does. However, semantic accuracy of male circumcision does not prove that male circumcision cannot also be mutilation. Saying it’s not FGM isn’t enough.

Contrary to Professor Coleman, the analogy is neither specious nor disingenuous. It is not based on merely the traditional forms. The traditional form of FGM differs across cultures. The question of which version we should use exposes the flaw in the tradition approach. The varying extent of damage can be reflected in the codified punishment for violations.

It makes more sense to start with the principle involved. Again, non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is wrong. The principle does not require equivalent damage for both to violate the principle. Anyway, the anatomical analogy to mnale circumcision is a hoodectomy. The latter is illegal, which brings in the topic of equal rights. The law does not protect the rights of male minors that it protects for female minors.

The motivations aren’t as different as suggested, either.

Next:

The World Health Organization is also clear that:

“FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.”

I prefer my fact sheet because it deals with principles and equality rather than outcomes. Still, even on the appeal to authority she begins here, she’s wrong. Within its fact sheet, WHO states:

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies.

To repeat myself, would WHO rebrand female genital mutilation to “female genital cutting” and declare it an acceptable parental choice if some health benefits were found? I find the possibility doubtful, at best. So why shouldn’t we also apply the basic logic of harm as “removing and damaging healthy and normal genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of bodies” to males? It’s okay to do this without their consent because we’ve pursued a “health benefits” justification for enough years, even though almost every claimed benefit can be achieved with less invasive preventions and/or treatments?

Ms. Saperia quotes a 1997 joint statement from several groups declaring “FGM to be universally unacceptable, as it is an infringement on the physical and psychosexual integrity of women and girls and is a form of violence against them.” Even if we pretend that there is no psychosexual violation to males, there is the clear infringement on their physical integrity. (She returns to this point later, although she furthers her error.) Circumcision is a form of violence against males. It inflicts some level of harm in every instance.

Instead of acknowledging this connection, she quotes the WHO to push the irrelevant facts about circumcision being a long-standing practice and that many reasons exist for its imposition on healthy children. And then the predictable argument about HIV, which is easily refuted, and also countered with the truth that condoms are still necessary after circumcision.

She proceeds into the illogical “no real harm”:

In the absence of strong and non-conflicting medical evidence that male circumcision regularly causes substantial harm to young boys, the arguments against the procedure are severely weakened. …

Substantial is a subjective word. What one person finds substantial, I might not. And vice versa. The core question is whether or not there is non-conflicting medical evidence that non-therapeutic male circumcision causes harm. There is. It causes harm, in every case. Normal, healthy tissue is removed. Nerve endings are severed. The resulting scar provides further proof, and the mechanical functioning is altered. I accept that many people think this trade-off is acceptable for the possible benefits. But only the individual male is qualified to make that evaluation for himself.

… Since male circumcision and FGM are simply incomparable, gender equality should not demand the banning of the former just because the latter is illegal. [ed. note: Again, they’re comparable in principle (and to an extent within FGM Type IV). The law should reflect that.] And while the right to security of the person is certainly implicated by circumcision, the low risk of harm (and the fact that most complications are extremely minor) means that this right should be balanced against other compelling rights, such as religious freedom.

There is not a “low risk of harm”. There is a 100% risk of harm. There is a low risk of complications, of unexpected outcomes. Those harms are not the same. There is no implication. The guaranteed harm of non-therapeutic circumcision violates the child’s right to security. That should be balanced against competing rights, but as the court found, a child’s right to physical security outweighs his parents’ supposed right to practice their religion. From an individual rights perspective, the parents’ religious freedom ends where the child’s body begins. The child also possess a right to religious freedom.

After a paragraph praising the unity the three major religions are showing in their criticism, she writes:

According to the German court, the right to religious freedom “would not be unduly impaired” because the child could later decide for himself whether to have the circumcision. Aside from the court’s interference with a religious precept that the ritual must take place long before adulthood, the judgment could ironically cause greater harm to one’s bodily integrity because circumcision for adolescents and adults, as compared to infants, is more complicated and has a higher rate of adverse effects.

First, civil law already interferes with many religious precepts because they involve harm to others. Interference is not necessarily improper.

To her point, the issue is consent to the harm inflicted. The right to bodily integrity involves the ability to consent to harm. Or not. If a male wishes to get himself circumcised, he can decide for himself that whatever benefits he values from non-therapeutic circumcision outweigh the harm and risks of further harm. Or not. The perceived increase in difficulty in adults is not an ethical argument in favor of infant circumcision.

Within the religious context, we need to evaluate the number of teens and adults who would volunteer for ritual circumcision if left intact from birth. I assume that number would be very high. I do not believe it would be 100%, at which point the implications to individual rights should become obvious. More on this in a moment.

Outside the religious context, the number of teens and adults who would volunteer for cultural circumcision if left intact at birth would be very low, as it is now. I also assume the number of medically necessary circumcisions would increase, but only on a volume basis. The percentage would likely stay low, apart from the consequences of unnecessary fiddling with the non-retractable foreskins of children by doctors and parents.

While there appears to be the difference between infant and adult circumcision Ms. Saperia cites, there are other differences. Consent is the largest, but there is also the ability to say how much skin the individual wants removed, if he consents. Does he want to keep his frenulum? As an adult, he can have greater amounts of pain management medicine, as needed. The case isn’t as convenient to their argument as proponents seem to believe.

Ms. Saperia’s conclusion calls for a recognition of community rights, within limits, to support multicultural acceptance and integration. This is lacking on medical grounds because it is objective harm for non-therapeutic reasons. It is lacking on legal grounds because analogous surgical interventions are treated unequally in law. It is lacking on moral grounds because it lacks the consent of the recipient. Every proof she attempted failed to demonstrate that non-therapeutic circumcision on non-consenting children should be permitted.


Coercion Negates Self-Determination

Posted: June 29th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, First Amendment, Law, Logic, Parenting | No Comments »

The German court ruling involves many issues, so I expect it to be an ongoing source for posts for the foreseeable future. I’m building my thoughts on the opposition, which is a complex issue. For this post, though, there are a few comments worth mentioning. The full article contains many quotes based on faulty logic, but this comment¹ encapsulates the problem with balancing parental religious freedom with a child’s right to be free from harm:

The Evangelical Church’s Hans Ulrich Anke said: “Religious freedom and parents’ right to choose how to educate their children have not been weighed against the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity”.

Parents don’t have the right to educate their children with the blade of a scalpel. This is as true about male circumcision as it is for any other surgery, including religiously-argued female genital cutting. The right to be free from obvious, objective harm without one’s consent is not a right that begins upon reaching a society’s arbitrary age of majority. It’s especially fallacious to imagine that this right doesn’t exist from birth for male minors only, as laws against non-therapeutic female genital cutting imply. The fact that male circumcision is proscribed in religious texts demonstrates nothing about the legitimacy of its imposition on a healthy, non-consenting child in a civil society. There are many religious dictates that we do not allow under this expansive view of religious freedom because the actions violate the rights of others. A balancing test is necessary. Where there is a conflict, religion must change, not our protection of the rights of all citizens, equally.

This post by Iain Brassington at the Journal of Medical Ethics blog deftly addresses this conflict for what it is. (Mr. Brassington cites this news story.)

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called it “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination”.

That’s telling. The rights of the child give way to the right of a community to cut him. Can communities have rights anyway? I’m not at all sure. If they can, and if self-determination is one of them, does that always have to come out trumps? Again, I’m not at all sure. It’s strange to see rights-talk brought to the table in defence of unconsented, irreversible, and non-therapeutic body modification. If a boy decides that it’s important to get himself circumcised later in life, then that’s a different matter entirely: good for him. But without any choice? I may have missed something, but I don’t understand how the claim is supposed to work. Can anyone help out?

Mr. Brassington succinctly identifies the conflict. The argument is for community “rights” at the expense of individual rights. Effectively, children are property. I suspect critics of protecting a male child’s right to bodily integrity expect opponents to retreat on the basis of some form of fallacy to render reconsideration of existing norms unjustified and offensive. Unfortunately, but with reason for optimism, this is part of the path to achieving full protection of bodily integrity for all individuals.

¹ It’s possible to read that in a different context from the rest of the article. That subtlety may be what he meant, which would rather likely side closer to my view than with the other comments in the article. I will consider it in the context of the rest of the article, as criticism of the court and an attempt to support non-therapeutic child circumcision as a parental religious right.


Tempered Hope: German Court Edition

Posted: June 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, First Amendment, Law, Logic, Parenting | 3 Comments »

Like every other interested activist, I’m thrilled with the ruling from the District Court of Cologne.

Non-medical circumcision is a “serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body,” the Cologne district court ruled.

This criminalises religious circumcisions performed by Jews and Muslims, the Financial Times Deutschland newspaper said on Tuesday. It says circumcision should be considered a crime of bodily harm.

Basically, yes. And non-therapeutic, non-ritual circumcision on healthy children, I hope. Surgically removing a healthy, normal body part constitutes physical harm. It can’t be much clearer than that. Non-therapeutic circumcision is a “serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body”. There is no parental right to inflict such harm on a healthy child.

The various stories all quote some part of a statement by Professor Holm Putzke. They need to be pieced together to get his full statement, but the good bits I’ve read are here:

“This ruling has enormous significance for doctors,” said Professor Holm Putzke, an expert on law from Passau University in Germany. “For years there has been a call to ban circumcision for religious reasons. The court, as opposed to many politicians, was not afraid of criticism that its ruling was anti-Semitic or harmful to religion.”

Passau [sic – Putzke] further stated that the decision “may not only influence future rulings, but also bring about a change in the worldview of religious people regarding basic rights of children.”

And here:

Meanwhile, Holm Putzke, a professor of criminal law at the University of Passau who has argued for several years for a ban on involuntary circumcision, told JTA he hoped the ruling would spark discussion in Germany about “what should be given more weight – religious freedom or the right of children not to have their genitals mutilated.”

It’s not that complicated. There is no right to mutilate children within the individual right to religious freedom. The right to practice religion is not a right to practice it on another’s body with a permanent, harmful act.

As you can guess, I didn’t need 24 hours to understand that. I didn’t write about this yesterday because I wanted to think on it a bit, and to wait for a little more information to flow out because I can’t translate the source material. The court’s press release (pdf) is only in German, and Google Translate offers a bizarre counter-factual translation. Now that I’ve seen a little more, the key difference between what I know now and what was in the original trickle of information is that this decision is not binding. It’s a precedent in Germany, but it doesn’t immediately outlaw non-therapeutic genital cutting on minors in Germany. It will likely reach higher courts in Germany. This ruling is a victory, but it’s not time to spike the football in the endzone. There’s a long way to go, even in Germany. But it’s a brilliant start worth celebrating. We’ve long known that history will be on our side. This is further evidence.

Where I’d rather focus after the initial high is to suggest we all acknowledge and understand the implications for our efforts, particularly in the U.S. When the San Francisco ballot initiative began last year, that was a win. It became a minor setback for other reasons, but the initiative was correct. The text of the proposed legislation clearly identified the right and why it was generally applicable rather than an attack solely on religion as some inexcusably declared.

Still, the initiative had a flaw. The opportunity was specific to California and its ballot initiative option. It was worth pursuing (if there hadn’t been a controlling law on city versus state regulations already in place). It just shouldn’t have been in San Francisco. That was a tactical error. The city has a reputation outside of its boundaries that added unnecessary baggage to the effort. It allowed people uninterested in simple critical thought to suggest and accept that the initiative was on par with banning Happy Meals. The initiative involved liberty interests (i.e. individual bodily autonomy and genital integrity) that would’ve been helped by not being associated with unrelated silly endeavors.

So it is with this ruling. There’s more than just “we’re right!”. The case involved a Muslim family, which is being lost in many of the news reports and blogs reporting it. But the connection with and implications to Jewish ritual circumcision are obvious. If the ruling sticks and applies throughout Germany, it will affect both religions. That is legitimate. Again, circumcision inflicts physical harm, as the court found. Non-therapeutic reasons can’t excuse its imposition on children. That’s the rational extension of the finding. The elephant in the courtroom is the prohibition in Germany of an act associated with Judaism.

Ridiculous people will focus on this with hysterical hyperbole, but there are also reasonable people discussing it. It can’t and shouldn’t be dismissed. We should not feel ashamed or apologize for this unfortunate connection. It’s noteworthy but far too simplistic as an attack point. We should be cognizant of history and be responsible in how we talk about the ruling and its inevitable opponents within (and beyond) religious communities. History matters, but it can’t be an excuse to avoid the present. It can’t be a defense for uncritical thinking, for the wrong idea that non-therapeutic circumcision on a minor is an extension of a parent’s religious freedom. Religious freedom for parents and bodily integrity for children are consistent within the same civil law. We have the principles on our side. Let’s be intelligent about how we focus the discussion – and refocus it, if necessary – on rights and the future rather than solely on the past.


Lawsuits as Strategy

Posted: April 18th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FGM, First Amendment, Logic, Media Marketing, Mission, Parenting | 1 Comment »

I resisted commenting on this story. I don’t think it’s worth our time as activists for several reasons. One, the petitioner, Dean Cochrun, is an inmate in prison for kidnapping. He’s not exactly a sympathetic individual, even though I agree with the gist of his claim. Two, He’s representing himself. He’s going to make a mess of this, on the off chance it proceeds beyond his initial filing. I read his self-written complaint to judge it. I’m not an attorney so I’m not sufficiently qualified in much of the debate. Still, it’s clear how unfocused and emotional his claim is, when there’s a legitimate approach based on objective facts about circumcision and the unethical disparate treatment of healthy boys and girls. We can do better.

There are some relevant topics to discuss, though, which are brought out in this report by Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. at FindLaw. (Again, the caveat applies that I’m addressing these concerns from a layman’s perspective.)

Can circumcision rob you of your, uh, “sexual prowess”?

A South Dakota man thinks so, which is why he has filed a federal circumcision lawsuit against the hospital where he was born. He claims he only recently learned of his missing foreskin, and that doctors misled his mother into believing the procedure was medically necessary.

This is a fair reading of the complaint, but I don’t think it’s complete to say the he claims doctors misled only his mother. Mr. Cochrun wrote “Unknown Doctor who performed this procedure had misled my mother by failing to inform her that there are no medically necessary reasons for performing this procedure and so by the Unknown Doctors acts or omissions I was permanently and irreversibly scarred and deformed.” In the next two sentences he wrote: “By doing so the Unknown Doctor infringed upon the rights of my mother, father, and self. My mother and father were unable to make an informed decision because they were not provided with the facts necessary.” He references both his parents. This speaks to my claim that his suit is unfocused and poorly structured.

His argument is also problematic because it implies that parents have a right to impose non-therapeutic genital cutting if they’re sufficiently informed. They don’t, partly because they can’t be. The only rights involved in non-therapeutic genital cutting, those that were violated, belong to Mr. Cochrun. That should be the approach for any lawsuit, even if arguing that parents are insufficiently informed of the harms and risks of circumcision is a path to the inevitable, eventual recognition of genital integrity for all children.

Ms. Rabiner’s analysis continues, after a bit of laughing because of his name (an immature aside suggesting she hasn’t quite applied a sufficient openness to the general claims represented within Mr. Cochrun’s suit):

Cochrun, 28, is currently in prison on a kidnapping conviction, according to the Associated Press. This may explain why he had both the time to file such a strange lawsuit and why he only recently became aware that he was lacking in the foreskin department.

Unnerved by this revelation, he now claims he “was robbed of sensitivity during sexual intercourse.” The circumcision lawsuit further states that he lost “the sense of security and well-being I am entitled to in my person.”

Whether or not Mr. Cochrun is truthful in his claim, I do not find it difficult to believe that someone would not know he is circumcised (or intact). It’s common, as demonstrated in studies and anecdotal reports. Culture is weird in many ways. Dismissing such a revelation because it contradicts an assumption suggests we should check the assumption.

But, to the analysis within her post (link in original):

This is all well and good — and a little sad, to be honest — but it’s almost certain that a judge will toss Dean Cochrun’s suit. Here’s why:

  1. Consent. Cochrun was an infant when he was snipped, which means his mother had the legal right to consent to the procedure. There’s no indication that doctors lied to her.
  2. Statute of limitations. Personal injury lawsuits can’t be filed 28 years after the events in question. Sure, some states may toll – or pause – the clock and only restart it when the victim first learns of the injury. But it’s highly unlikely Cochrun didn’t know he was circumcised.
  3. Lack of jurisdiction. Cochrun lives in South Dakota. The hospital he is suing is in South Dakota. He has filed a state law tort claim. He filed his circumcision lawsuit in federal court. Federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear his claim.
As to this third point, even if Dean Cochrun re-filed his circumcision lawsuit in state court, the first two points will still apply. His lawsuit will undoubtedly be cut short.

In reverse order… The last point is the key here, which I didn’t process on my first reading. (Give me an ‘F’ in Civil Procedure, I suppose.) But, yes, that’s the best defense of my request not to get behind this suit or make too much of it. But even if he refiled in a state court, my opinion doesn’t change.

On the second point, from the included link:

… A child or a person with a mental illness is regarded as being incapable of initiating a legal action on her own behalf. Therefore, the time limit will be tolled until some fixed time after the disability has been removed. For example, once a child reaches the age of majority, the counting of time will be resumed. …

If this South Dakota code is what would apply in state court and I read it correctly¹, the clock began on Mr. Cochrun’s 18th birthday and ran out on his 19th birthday. Arguing that this suit is faulty because he filed 28 years after his circumcision seems to be incorrect. It should be that he filed 9 years too late. For purposes here, I’m granting that Mr. Cochrun’s “[m]ere ignorance of the existence of a cause of action” did not toll the statute of limitations because “the facts could have been learned by inquiry or diligence”, even though I’ve already demonstrated that it’s possible he may not have known his circumcision status until recently. Whether or not it’s true, it could be. It deserves serious consideration, even if it doesn’t change the conclusion on Mr. Cochrun’s claim.

Speaking of what deserves serious consideration, the correct consent argument relevant to non-therapeutic child circumcision is not presented in Ms. Rabiner’s analysis. I have no doubt that she’s correct that the consent involved rests on legal rather than right. It’s also probably nuanced and complicated with a long history in the common law. But that’s what needs to change. It already has with respect to female minors, so the notion that parents have a right to surgically alter (i.e. harm) a healthy child, but only a male child, is odd and needs to be relegated to the past as a relic of flawed, inexcusable human thinking. If it’s a right, it’s a right against all healthy children, not just male children. Any continued defense of a discriminatory distinction as a parental right is a problematic continuation of our shallow, uncritical thinking on the harm of circumcision. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is either wrong or it’s not.

The best way to achieve full protection of genital integrity and bodily autonomy is through cultural change. It’ll be the most likely to last. But that’s slow, and real individuals have their rights violated while that change develops. Thus, other methods are valid to achieve the same result. Next best is to have elected officials extend the protection we provide to everyone but male minors to male minors, as well. Given how likely that is(n’t), other options are necessary. Which leaves us with lawsuits. The courts are (hopefully) an impartial place to work out these issues to respect the rights of all individuals. Punishing those who violate the rights (and bodies) of children, even if punishment occurs only in civil court, will circle back as an incentive on cultural change. The idea of Mr. Cochrun’s lawsuit is spot on, even where it’s execution is misguided and flawed.

¹ Any lawyers who may read this, please don’t be afraid to correct me on this.


Inquiry Is Better than Insinuation

Posted: July 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, First Amendment, Logic, Parenting | 1 Comment »

Rabbi Gary Creditor wrote an essay in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the subject of circumcision, laws, and anti-Semitism. The title assigned is “Circumcision ban is veiled anti-Semitism.” The premise is absurd because it accepts no nuance into the discussion. It’s possible (and common) to oppose non-therapeutic child circumcision and anti-Semitism. The former can be expressed in clear principle without the latter. If Rabbi Creditor will make an effort to look, he will find examples.

Instead, this, after significant buildup:

Throughout history, those who sought to destroy the Jewish people always forbade brit milah, usually upon penalty of death. They thought that if they could eradicate the sign of the covenant, they could eliminate the covenantal people. They failed.

To the extent that I can (i.e. intellectually), I understand his concern. But this is not that. There is no effort to destroy Judaism or Jewish people. Any male may consent to circumcision when he is able. The proposed law would’ve set the age he could consent at 18, but I do not believe that is required. At whatever age he could consent, that would be acceptable. The focus is consent.

The proposed law would’ve established criminal penalties. That makes sense given that the fact involved is that non-therapeutic circumcision is (well-intentioned) battery, which violates the rights of the child. We criminalize female genital cutting on minors that causes less damage. There is nothing abhorrent about the proposed penalties. They would’ve very rarely, if ever, been enforced. That’s politics. But to connect a proposed year of imprisonment with capital punishment is inexcusably unfair.

That’s Rabbi Creditor’s premise. He exposes the flaw in his reasoning that demonstrates the principle of human rights and bodily integrity with his next paragraph (emphasis added):

That is the issue that reverberates these days in San Francisco with the attempt through legislation to ban all circumcision. It is a thinly veiled attack upon Judaism and the Jewish people. Anyone who objects to this ritual has the democratic right not to participate in it. Yet as parents with a religious persuasion, we make decisions on behalf of our children. One of those is the perpetuation of the faith. This is how we do it. This attack is not new — just its method. It violates core American principles.

I had a right not to participate in circumcision. I would exercise that right if I still had my choice. My parents (and the doctor) violated my right and my body when they circumcised me without medical need. Every human, male or female, possesses that basic right. Rabbi Creditor is mistaken. Society incorrectly fails to protect that right for male children, which violates core American principles. The core American principle is individual liberty, not collective “liberty” to permanently impose one’s beliefs on the physical body of another.