I completely realize that for those of you who are not parents, and perhaps even those who are, the circumcision discussion sounds like a strange one to be had. Yet, as a mother of boys, I cannot tell you how important it was for us to make the right ethical decision for our sons, and how many times it has come up in conversation since then with other moms. I have stopped myself several times from writing this post, but the recent resurgence of this conversation has finally prompted me to open the case, and perhaps the eyes of those who have never given it a second thought.
First of all, I will begin by saying that the most important thing, of course, is for the two parents to be on the same page in regards to the circumcision decision of their sons. With that said, am I personally opposed to the cultural practice of male circumcision? I am. While I recognize the grave distinction between male circumcision and female genital mutilation, I am morally opposed to the medically unnecessary removal of healthy tissue, especially practiced on innocent and non-consenting individuals. Do I know grown men who have sought counseling due to feelings of “loss of manhood” due to their circumcision? I unfortunately do.
I was first challenged by this moral topic many years ago at a young adults group. Never had it occurred to me that circumcision was an ethical decision, requiring well-informed and morally culpable consent. I have battled with it, and researched it since then. Thankfully, it became a necessary moral issue for me to work through many years before God would bless us with our own sons. At the end of it all, to my own sons, I say, “You’re Welcome!”
The most common reasons for parents in the US to circumcise their sons is “cultural norm.” US citizens trust doctors impeccably, believing that medical practices are always ethical, and often consent to a wide range of procedures, without doing any independent research. Sadly, parents allow this surgical procedure to be conducted on their newborn’s genitals within the first day of life, without having much information on potential long term effects.
Outside of our American bubble, only 30% of males globally are circumcised, and of those almost 70% are Muslim. Male circumcision is “relatively rare” in Europe, and even in the US, currently only about 50% of males are circumcised. Therefore, it can no longer be considered a “cultural norm” or “standard” in first world countries. Globally speaking, circumcised males are abnormal.
TO LOOK LIKE DAD
Another common reason to circumcise a son in the US is so that he “looks” like his dad. I find this to be very strange and even a little disturbing, considering that a son shouldn’t really have that many opportunities to see whether he is “like” dad, other than potty training, which he hopefully won’t remember.
In following this logic, a father with one arm would want to remove his son’s arm so that his son could better relate to him. A father with poor eyesight would wish poor eyesight on his son, so that they could both wear glasses together. This just doesn’t make sense.
Stating the choice to circumcise due to health reasons is one of the easiest excuses to hide behind, and almost never able to be defended. This is because less than 1% of very specific cases may require medical circumcision.
“In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in no uncertain terms that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.” In 1983, the AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) restated this position. In 1999 and again in 2005, the AAP again restated this position of equivocation.”
Doctors and parents will cling to the argument that circumcised men are less likely to get a Urinary Tract Infection. However, woman are a little over three times more likely to get a UTI in her lifetime than a man. Going strictly on the logic of “health” benefits, this argument makes a far more compelling argument for the necessity of female circumcision than male.
MALE VS FEMALE CIRCUMCISION
It may surprise you that globally, female circumcision, or female genital mutilation is more prevalent than male circumcision. Occurring in at least 27 African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries, FGM is exercised on millions of women. Also surprising, is that these “circumcisions” are not necessarily being preformed by unqualified persons in tribal areas. In Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya 77% of FGM procedures are carried out by health care professionals and physicians. I also understand that it is becoming an increasingly common request in US hospitals, primarily by immigrants from these countries.
The most common reason cited for the brutal practice of FGM is “cultural norm” and “acceptance.” Hmm, where have I heard that before? The second reason is hygiene, which also parallels male circumcision in the West. The third is the belief that removing the pleasure from the sexual experience for a woman will ensure her virginity before marriage, and lessen sexual desire in cases of men taking several wives. As shocking as this third one may sound, remember that male circumcision also removes healthy, sensitive tissue from the male genitalia, which is why it is viewed as a “demasculization” in most cultures. I have even run across Christian circles in the US who circumcise their sons with the primary intent of reducing future masturbation. Anthropologist Fadwa El Guindi states that “male circumcision is viewed in Africa as defeminizing men and FGM as demasculinizing women.”
The Wold Health Organization states 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.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have also stated multiple times that there is no medical indication for male circumcision, which is also the removal of healthy and normal male genital tissue.
I do believe that while both procedures remove healthy tissue, there is a heinous difference between the damage done in female as opposed to male circumcision, both physically and psychologically. In both cases however, the unfortunate fact remains, that these practices are promoted and even required by certain cultures, without question or further thought.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.” This ethical dilemma therefore rests ultimately in the decision of the parents, but I state it precisely because of the moral gravity of the decision. Is circumcision a “strictly therapeutic medical reason?” Is it medically necessary?
Again, while there is a grave distinction between female genital mutilation and male circumcision, the decision is certainly not something to take lightly in jumping on the “cultural norm” bandwagon.”
The Old Testament shows us the Divine adoption of the people of Israel by Yahweh, and their growing relationship together. There were many strict laws, rituals, and practices required of the people of God in fulfilling the requirements of the Old Covenant. Adherence to these practices was necessary for the health, cleanliness, and survival of the people. As well, God asked sacrifices and offerings of His people, in teaching them how to properly worship and honor Him.
In Genesis 17, God makes a covenant with Abraham. All males are to be circumcised after eight days. Recent research has incredibly revealed that by eight days adequate quantities of vitamin K are being produced in the body, preventing hemorrhaging. “So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.” Jewish men still follow this practice, adhering to the Abrahamic covenant. Muslim men, tracing their lineage also to Abraham, are religiously required to circumcise their sons. As well, male converts to Islam are strongly encouraged to undergo circumcision.
Upon the coming of Christ, the old law was fulfilled and God established a new law with His people. Christ said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The circumcision of the flesh was in fact fulfilled by Christ, and no longer necessary in Christian practice. Galatians 5 begins with Paul warning against submitting again to the yoke of slavery. “Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” Paul was angry that some Christians were still pressuring converts to be circumcised, holding onto the old law. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” For a Christian, true circumcision is not “something external and physical,” rather “real circumcision is a matter of the heart” (Rom 2:25-29).
Religiously, as a Christian, circumcision is no longer religiously required or practiced, as it was fulfilled in Christ.
Medically, there is no medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.
Ethically, a good argument may be made that circumcision is a violation of the body of an innocent person, without a medically therapeutic reason.
Therefore, all evidence points to the sad fact that the majority of male circumcisions preformed, are done so as the result of a great lack of knowledge, or conformity and pressure to social and cultural norms.
Choose for your sons what is best, so that you will know religiously, medically, and ethically, that your faith is working through love.
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