Dutch doctors urge end to male circumcision

AMSTERDAM Fri Sep 23, 2011 10:49am EDT

Related Topics

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch doctors want politicians and human rights groups to speak out and discourage the practice of male circumcision in the Netherlands because they say it is a "painful and harmful ritual," and a violation of children's rights.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 boys are circumcised in the Netherlands each year, mostly for religious reasons and not always with an anesthetic, according to the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) which represents surgeons, pediatricians, general practitioners and urologists.

"We want to discourage male circumcision, because it is an unnecessary procedure with complications, which violates the integrity of the child," Lode Wigersma, a spokesman for the association, told Reuters on Friday.

"This is not an innocent procedure, we see complications in about 5 percent of the cases, as well as some long-term and psychological implications," he said.

Male circumcision involves the removal of all or part of the foreskin of the penis. It is a ritual obligation for infant Jewish boys, and is also a common rite among Muslims, who account for the largest share of circumcised men worldwide.

The Dutch medical association has urged religious leaders to find alternative rites of passage that are not irreversible and which are not painful for the child.

The practice of female genital mutation has been prohibited by law in the Netherlands since 1993 for all ages.

Last year the Dutch medical association released a report against the practice of circumcision of male children for non-medical reasons, hoping to initiate a public discussion.

Now it is appealing to Dutch politicians to speak out against the practice to help "gradually change the mentality" in society and among religious groups that circumcise their boys.

The doctors group said that contrary to popular belief, circumcision can cause some minor as well as serious complications including bleeding, infection, urethral stricture as well as panic attacks, which it says are particularly common.

It said there was no medical reason to surgically remove a part of the genitals of healthy babies and young children, who are too young to give their consent to the procedure.

The Dutch doctors are not calling for a circumcision ban, for fear the practice will be driven underground.

"We also understand that it (circumcision) is a deeply embedded religious habit so we don't expect it to be over in a few years, so our appeal is if you want to do it then have it done by a doctor with anesthesia," said Wigersma.

The majority of male circumcisions in the Netherlands are done in special circumcision clinics by doctors using anesthetic on Muslim boys between 5 and 7 years, according to Wigersma.

Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, President of the Dutch Association of Rabbis, said only about 50 male Jewish babies are circumcised in the Netherlands each year.

He disputed the 5 percent complication rate, and said there have not been any problems in the Jewish community due to strict rules about how and when circumcision takes place.

"According to Jewish law, you have to do it (circumcision) the Jewish way," Jacobs said.

The doctors' recommendation to end the practice of circumcision is likely to be controversial given that it involves both Jewish and Muslim traditions.

In a rare show of unity in June, the Dutch Muslim and Jewish communities -- numbering about 1 million and 40,000 respectively in a total population of 16 million -- condemned the government's proposed ban on the religious slaughter of animals as a violation of their religious freedom.

(Reporting By Roberta B. Cowan)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (7)
ml66uk wrote:
Many countries have ended female cutting, even though some people think it’s their religious right or obligation. Boys should get the same protection.

Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want parts of their genitals cut off. It’s *their* body.

Sep 23, 2011 11:13am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Congratulations to the Royal Dutch Medical Association, who now join the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Cancer Society, The American Medical Association, The Australasian Association of Paediatric Surgeons, The Australian College of Paediatrics, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The British Medical Association, and The Canadian Paediatric Society in opposing routine infant circumcision.

Sep 23, 2011 3:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
“It is a fundamental principle of international law, as well as the mark of every civilized community, that discrimination is unlawful. Interpretations of human rights law that recognize FGM but not MGM as violations infringe on equal protection principles enshrined in national and international law. Female circumcision is, rightly, a criminal offence in almost every country even when “religious duty” is claimed; there can be no justification for not extending the same protection to boys. All forms of sexual cutting of children are profoundly damaging, whether male or female. To suggest that only female circumcision be regarded as in breach of the various conventions on human rights denies the medical evidence as to the pain, risks and sexual dysfunction from infant male circumcision. It argues for the formalization of discrimination against these male children on the grounds of their sex, race and the religious beliefs of the family into which they are born. Human rights principles are absolute, not subject to balancing in the scales of international justice relative to other violations.

The presence of and tolerance for infant male circumcision in our societies harms us all. Male infants need our protection from unnecessary surgery. To contemplate a ban on non-ritual, non-therapeutic circumcision, while allowing ritual circumcision, would be a prohibited discrimination against a group of boys on the grounds of their parents’ religion. These infants will always have the choice to be circumcised later in life, if they so choose to do as a sign of their faith. At that point, at least, it is their own decision and not one that has been imposed irreversibly upon them.”

* excerpt from INFANT MALE CIRCUMCISION: A Violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms written by ARIF BHIMJI, MD

Sep 23, 2011 6:25pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.