Pain Is Only One Human Rights Issue

Posted: January 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, Pain | No Comments »

There are complicated issues of religion involved in this essay. As I intend to make clear in the future, they’re not so complicated that we shouldn’t discuss them for fear of offense or pretend that religion is in some way a special exception to the basic human rights issue involved in non-therapeutic child circumcision. However, I don’t want to delve too deeply into them this early in Choose Intact’s history.

Instead, I want to focus on the last sentence of the essay’s first paragraph to discuss framing. The religious aspect of the first paragraph is superfluous for this point. (emphasis mine)

Human rights start at home. We must defend them for children in the Jewish community as much as adults in others. Day eight in the life of Jewish boys should be no exception, even as we engage in the ritual excision of foreskin from their penises. Both the pain and unnecessary foreskin can be cut together.

As I wrote on Twitter this morning, [a]lways be aware of how #circumcision advocates mix subjective adjectives and objective facts for equal consideration. The author(s) frame the remainder of the essay with the stated assumption that the foreskin is ‘unnecessary’. This is true in the simplest form of argument, in that a boy does not need his foreskin to survive. Neither does a girl need her labia to survive. The latter is usually more horrific than the former in practice, but both are horrific because they remove healthy, functioning tissue from a non-consenting child.

The author(s) inevitably do not intend this meaning. ‘Unnecessary’ is short-hand for ‘unwanted’ or ‘superfluous’, for the belief that the child will be indifferent, at worst, to the removal of his foreskin. It frames the discussion away from the considering potential objections from the child. We are to accept that he wants circumcision because his parents want him circumcised. There is no way to confirm this for any individual child. The child may want his foreskin.

From the basics of circumcision, whether ritual or cultural, we can only draw the conclusion that the pain is unnecessary, not that the foreskin is unnecessary. That is the objective fact involved, as long as the child is healthy. No pain is necessary. In order to respect the child’s human rights, we must therefore refrain from inflicting any form of it if human rights are to mean anything. (Related: The author(s) talk of proper anesthesia during the procedure, but ignore the question of post-operative pain from the surgery. This matters, too, since children can’t receive the same pain management as adults.)

The human right involved is summarized in a simple principle: non-therapeutic genital-cutting on a non-consenting individual is wrong. Contrary to the essay, the only way to honor that is to not circumcise the healthy child. If he wants to be circumcised, he may choose it for himself. Imposing circumcision on a him violates his human rights. It’s more humane to use proper pain management when circumcising, but it isn’t a meaningful victory for human rights.



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