Thursday, December 18, 2008

The dicks and the League for Human Rights

Ihmisoikeusliitto (Finnish League for Human Rights) wants a law permitting boys' circumcision and making it available through the public health care system.

This is the League for Human Rights, not against them. Right? Let me check again. Right.

I would have thought that on the general scale of human rights the right to keep one's own body parts would rate fairly high, and the right to cut off somebody else's comparatively low, but I guess the League for Human Rights thinks otherwise. Silly me.

But first a bit about the facts:

1. The circumcision debates list all kinds of benefits and drawbacks to the procedure, but if you start to look at the studies you can see that they are all pretty inconclusive either way. The bottom line is, in the words of the American Medical Association, that "virtually all current policy statements from specialty societies and medical organizations do not recommend routine neonatal circumcision". I don't think the case should be argued on any medical merits.

2. In Finland there is no law concerning circumcision, and for a long time there was no legal precedent, either. Circumcision has been tolerated for as long as there has been a Jewish and a Muslim community, who traditionally did it among themselves without demanding anything from the public health care system, and circumcision became the subject of public discussion with the current Muslim immigration. The new immigrants understandably consider it their right to do what the established minorities have been doing for about 150 years, but often can't afford it on their own.

In 2008 the Supreme Court decided that religious circumcision is not a crime as long as it's done in a proper medical way.

But the court of course decides what the law is, not what it should be.

3. Most importantly, no country in the civilized world bans male circumcision, and our brave leaders don't want to be the first.

Back to Finnish League for Human Rights' statement.

The arguments for a law permitting and funding circumcision are ridiculous. The League for Human Rights says they don't believe that there would be any fewer circumcisions if the procedure is forbidden than there is now, and expresses concern that if circumcision is forbidden the people will turn to medically unsafe practitioners.

As a Jew, I find the implications very insulting. We are fairly law-abiding people, fairly well aware of various human rights concerns, and for the most part not very fanatically religious. Moreover, while I am most decidedly not a fan of Islam, I - unlike, apparently, the Finnish League for Human Rights - don't think that they are all criminal fanatics, either.

There is a precedent: circumcision wasn't outright forbidden in the ex-USSR, but it was made quite difficult. And guess what: most Jews there didn't do it.

For those who would circumcise their sons no matter what there are other ways to discourage dangerous methods without permitting the procedure. First of all, there is such thing as medically necessary circumcision, and I think at least some of those people will find a sympathetic doctor. Second, one way of dealing with it would be to make medically sound non-medical circumcision a fairly minor crime (battery, for example, or even minor battery) and make a medically unsound circumcision an aggravated battery, for which parents can actually go to prison.

Banning circumcision won't get rid of it completely. But if people who want to circumcise their sons will need to find a sympathetic doctor, or a sympathetic country, and possibly get a fine and/or a suspended sentence when caught, at least everyone who is in doubt or who is just doing it because it's a tradition will stop doing it. It's worth a try.

As to being the first: there used to be a time when it was legal almost everywhere to rape one's wife or to beat one's children. Finland wasn't the first country to ban those either, but doesn't it wish it were?

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