July 23, 2012
German court's circumcision ban does not affect US military clinicsBy Nancy Montgomery
HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. military doctors will continue performing circumcisions on male infants when parents request it, officials say, despite a controversial German court decision that banned the procedure as inhumane.
The June decision by a court in Cologne applies only in that jurisdiction, not in any of the German states in which U.S. military clinics are located, said Ed Rohan, a spokesman for Europe Regional Medical Command.
“If another jurisdiction in which we have military treatment facilities were to pick up the same legal reasoning, there is a possibility that it would apply to health care providers” there, he said.
“At this point they will continue to perform circumcisions, but our legal experts will continue to follow this issue and provide advice based on any other court or legislative actions,” Rohan said.
U.S. facilities may be among the few places now in Germany to do the procedure that removes some or all of the foreskin from the penis. After the June court ruling, the head of Germany’s medical association said he was advising colleagues throughout the country against performing circumcisions to avoid any risk of criminal prosecution.
Even before the ruling, however, many German pediatricians would not perform them.
“For example, in Heidelberg, all circumcisions (on Americans) are performed in the Army Health Clinic. But in Stuttgart, about half were performed by host nation providers in the local community,” Rohan said.
Rohan agreed that the ruling had muddied the legal waters surrounding the procedure, which has never been embraced in Europe, but since the 1900s had been done on the majority of U.S. male babies.
Teams of U.S. and German lawyers had been discussing the implications of the court ruling, Rohan said, and had “reached varying conclusions as to its impact” on U.S. military facilities, he said. “The general consensus, however, is that we will not see a wave of prosecutions based upon this singular and narrowly applied interpretation of law.”
It’s not the first time circumcision has been subject to restrictions in Europe.
In 2001, Sweden passed a law allowing only people certified by the National Board of Health to circumcise infants. Swedish Jews and Muslims objected to the law and the World Jewish Congress called it “the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era.”
In 2006, a Finnish court ruled the circumcision of a 4-year-old boy to be an illegal assault, but in October 2008 the Finnish Supreme Court ruled that the circumcision, “carried out for religious and social reasons and in a medical manner,” was not criminal.
The swiftness of the German parliament’s response seeking a law allowing circumcision is attributed to the sensitivity surrounding Germany’s Nazi past.
Circumcision rates vary throughout the world. The U.S. has had one of the highest rates: The conventional view was that a foreskin-free penis was healthier and cleaner. But the procedure became increasingly controversial, with some arguing that it was a sort of mutilation that conferred few benefits and caused harm, such as pain to the baby and later decreased penile sensitivity.
Rohan said circumcision rates in the U.S. were falling, from some 63 percent in 1999 to 54.5 percent in 2009. The German circumcision rate is about 20 percent, he said. [That sounds improbably high.]
In 2011, 518 boys were born at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, officials there said, and 145 of them were circumcised [only 28% - much lower than in the US] shortly after birth, which is when doctors say it is least traumatic [- contrary to the evidence].