Friday, December 13, 2013

GERMANY: Circumcision law has failed

Deutche Welle
December 12, 2013

German circumcision law still under fire

A year ago Germany, after a long and heated debate, passed a controversial new circumcision law. It was meant to be a Solomonic solution, but critics say that the new rules do not guarantee children's well-being.

A ruling by a Cologne regional court in the spring of 2012 set off a fierce debate over the Jewish and Muslim ritual of circumcision. The court decided that non-medical circumcision amounted to bodily harm. Both supporters and critics of the practice discussed the issue at length on television and op-ed pages, employing both medical and ethical arguments. The main question remained: how to reconcile freedom of religion and parents' rights to choose how to raise their children on the one hand, with the children's well-being on the other.

A law was passed that was meant to answer that question. Paragraph 1631d of the code of civil law declared that the circumcision of a male child is legal and must be done in accordance with "the rules of the medical profession" - as safely as possible and with appropriate and effective pain relief. Parents need to be informed of the procedure's potential risks, it must not pose a danger to the child's well-being, and the wishes of children old enough to express them also need to be taken into account. Representatives of Germany's Jewish and Muslim communities said they were satisfied with these conditions.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who introduced the bill, said the regulation re-established what was regarded as the status quo before the Cologne court's ruling.

But a year after coming into effect, the law is now a complete failure - at least according to critics, who say circumcision represents a violation of a child's physical integrity. Boys, critics said, often do not undergo the procedure under safe conditions and without appropriate pain relief.

"This law has legalized many questionable means of children's foreskin amputation," said Christian Bahls, head of the Mogis association, which advocates the physical integrity and sexual self-determination of children.

Bahls refers to a case in Berlin in which the Jewish method of Metzitzah B'Peh was carried out - where the circumciser sucks the wound with his mouth, and not with a pipette or a small tube. Because of the danger of infection, the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association (IAPA), among other associations, has already rejected the practice.

Mogis pressed charges against the boy's father, a rabbi, as well as his wife and the circumciser. But prosecutors dropped the case because no criminal responsibility could be proven against the parents, and the circumciser lived abroad and so was outside German jurisdiction.

Bahls says this outcome shows that the new law does not protect children's well-being properly. Prosecutors, he claims, dropped the case on the grounds that applying a painkilling bandage after the circumcision was enough to ensure medical safety. "So clearly it is permissible to amputate a child's foreskin without an adequate anesthetic," said Bahls. "That is what the law allows."

Wolfgang Gahr, general secretary of Germany's academy for children and young people's medicine (DAKJ), has also heard reports of circumcisions being carried out under hygienically questionable conditions and without anesthetic. "They are individual cases," he said. "We don't have any figures." The DAKJ is against non-medical circumcisions in general, but if they can't be avoided, "they should at least take place under medical supervision and be painless."

But this last condition is certainly not stipulated by the law, according to which children under six months are allowed to be circumcised by someone nominated by the religious community - in other words, a circumciser, who in most cases is not a doctor. That means he is not qualified to administer an anesthetic, says Gahr.

The Justice Ministry, on the other hand, cites what it claims is evidence that the law protects children's well-being - for instance a ruling made by a Higher Regional Court in September, which forbade a Kenyan woman from circumcising her six-year-old son because parents and doctors had not consulted the child, and because the parents had failed to properly inform themselves.

Germany's Constitutional Court has also had to address the law, after a man brought a lawsuit because he had been circumcised by someone without medical training, in 1991, when he was aged six. The judges dismissed his case because he was not currently directly affected by the new law. In other words, the court avoided addressing the new law itself.

1 comment:

  1. The law is well done considering the majorities in german parlament at the time it passed.
    It makes clear that circumcision is no parents right but has to be decided according to the childs well-being.

    Problem is, that it gives the idea that circumcision can be in the childs best interest, what obviously can´t be, if one judges that by the values we claim to cherish: Human Rights and the state of law.

    Circumcision is not only a violation of body integrity, it´s also a violation of human dignity and the freedom to make his own choice about his body, his religion and his sexuality (witch by the way can heavily affect any further relation of the boy for the rest of his whole life)
    It´s even more. There´s no state of law thinkable without protection of body integrity and against painful mistreatment for everyone.

    A right of parents to circumcise their sons would be nothing other than a right for arbitrary hurting another person. “By the parents judgement” means nothing other than by subjective opinion, in another word arbitrary.
    And that is absolutely incompatible with any state of law, one doesn´t even has to reflect on human rights to reject that.

    Circumcision is a crime, anyone who does, support or provoke it is a criminal, anyone who comes by has to the duty to help avoiding it (limited by what can be reasonable demanded from him).
    What puts state officials to the problem that they have to choose between following orders and following the constitution. One should never have expected to see that in Germany again, one should have thought not only the people but also the politicians learned their lesson form german history.

    That makes it obvious how extremely irresponsible the acting of the political elites was, not only because of the incredible ignorance against the ongoing harm done to defenseless children but even more of what this does to the legal system and its servants.
    One would never had expected to see Germany in lifetime again in a situation that the constitution has to be protected not by but against the state.

    We´re talking about circumcising a child but it´s obvious to anyone who doesn´t close his eyes that circumcision can´t either be allowed for adults, not as a requirement to join a group.
    It´s called an offence to common decency and it´s therefore forbidden.
    One should think that´s obvious to anyone reasonable, if one imagines what this would mean if every community could start to ask for body sacrifice if someone wants to join in. One doesn´t need to be real bright to see, that is can´t be allowed.

    Freedom of Religion means that anyone can choose his religion and practice it according to the legal system but the legal system always sets the limits.
    But that shouldn´t be a problem to religion. Religions always changed and will always do.
    That´s how they survived in the changing societies - and that´s no opinion, anyone can check that with a simple look in the sources.

    Leaves the “right of parents”. Well, there is no “right of parents”, what is meant by that is the right of children to be raised protected and the idea that parents know best what is in their childs best interest. And surely parents have to respect the human rights (as well as any other right) of the child.

    What really is a shame to Germany is the total failure of it´s political leaders in this subject.

    But it was a court that brought the discussion on its way and there are enough lawyer that still writing about why circumcision can never be allowed by any law in Germany.
    So hopefully the courts will fix what the politicians have messed up.

    And than there are 70 % of german people against circumcision trying to informing others about what circumcision really is:
    A violation of Human Rights and a threat to any state of law, an awful harm to many children and something that stands against every important value we claim to cherish in our society.

    Freedom means free choice about his own body, his own sexuality, his own religion.
    Freedom means not the right to decide for someone else. How could it be?