January 22, 2015
Doctors defy new circumcision lawby Nina Berglund
Only one hospital in all of southeastern Norway is officially offering to circumcise newborns, according to an internal document obtained by newspaper Dagsavisen. In a response to the state health ministry’s request for a status report on circumcision, state agency Helse Sør-Øst (Health Southeast) wrote on January 16 that only the hospital in Kristiansand (Sørlandet Sykehus) offered to circumcise newborn baby boys. A few others offered circumcision only to boys more than a year old.
At Akershus University Hospital (Ahus) northeast of Oslo, fully 13 of its 15 urologists have submitted written statements reserving themselves against performing circumcision. “The opposition to this emerged before the law on circumcision was approved,” Dr Anja Løvvik, leader of the urology department at Ahus, told Dagsavisen this week. “The fact that many (doctors) want to reserve themselves against this should not be unexpected.” Her colleague Dr Frode Steinar Nilsen at Ahus called circumcision “a surgical operation with no health advantages and one that, as with all surgery, carries with it a risk and a burden for the child. That’s why we don’t want to perform it.”
Doctors, however, have no right to reserve themselves against the procedure in the new law, making their resistance potentially illegal, according to state secretary Cecilie Brein-Karlsen at the health ministry. She told newspapers VG and Dagsavisen that Norway’s public health system must now offer the procedure to parents who want their baby boys circumcised. The Parliament approved the new law last year after reports that babies in Norway risked being seriously injured during circumcision rituals performed outside the health care sector. One baby boy died in Oslo in 2012.
The law was approved by a large majority in Parliament but not without controversy. Doctors’ and nurses’ professional organizations opposed it as did many individual Members of Parliament, but they followed their parties’ lines. In addition to fearing that circumcision would continue to be performed by non-health professionals in Norway, party leaders didn’t want to be seen as being either anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim, since circumcision is traditional in the Jewish and Muslim communities. Others pointed to how millions of men around the world are circumcised including a majority of American men regardless of religious persuasion.
Fending off any ‘fear of foreigners’
“I think many (MPs) were afraid to be accused of anti-Semitism or fear of foreigners,” Jenny Klinge, an MP for the Center Party, told Dagsavisen. She unsucessfully proposed offering hospital circumcision only to males over the age of 18, when they could decide themselves if they wanted to be circumcised. Klinge added that she could understand the health care professionals’ opposition to performing circumcision: “It is in principle wrong for the state to carry out such surgery on babies. One shouldn’t cut into small children in the name of God.”
US health authorities view male circumcision positively, but their Norwegian counterparts don’t. Some doctors’ attempts to reserve themselves against performing abortions also have sparked controversy, not least last winter, but Nilsen of Ahus is adamant: “If (politicians) think they can force an entire profession to perform surgery they feel is wrong both medically and morally, I think that’s remarkable.”
Brein-Karlsen told Dagsavisen that she also understands “that this is a difficult issue.” She said hospitals should take the doctors’ objections into consideration, “but the regional health agencies are still responsible for making sure that an offer (of circumcision) is there.”
Ahus, located in Lørenskog, has estimated that parents of as many as 400 babies a year may request circumcision, and worry they won’t have the capacity to perform it. “Children who need other operations are already having to wait,” Løvvik said. “If we have to offer circumcision, they may need to wait even longer.” Ahus has told expectant parents that it will only offer the procedure after the child is a year old, at the earliest. Hospitals in Bærum, Drammen and Ringerike have set an age limit at two years, while Oslo University Sykehus was expected to start offering ritual circumcision next month, for boys over one year of age.