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Circumcision debate: The medical and religious arguments against the anti-circumcision measure

May 31, 2011 | 12:24 pm

Circumcision Both the editorial and Op-Ed pages have weighed in on the measure that would ban male circumcision in San Francisco if passed in November. Here are excerpts from two arguments against the proposition:

The religious perspective:

Still, there's something so breathtakingly wrong about the presence of such a proposition on any ballot that its implications are worth at least a few minutes of reflection. On one level, it's simply the most recent and egregious example of how California's long experiment with direct democracy has gone stunningly wrong at every level of government. Simply because more than 12,000 residents signed a petition, you have the people of an American city voting on whether or not to proscribe one of the central rituals of an entire religious community — in this case, Jews, who have been required to circumcise male infants within eight days of birth since the time of Abraham. Many Muslims also practice circumcision for religious reasons, while significant numbers of other American parents elect the procedure for hygienic or health reasons. The San Francisco measure proposes to make the circumcision of males under 18 a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or a year in jail. […]

That's true even when, as in this instance, a measure clearly is aimed at a particular part of the community, and there's no doubt that this proposition knowingly targets Jews. Marc Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Committee, had the matter exactly right when said: "This is the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States. It's unprecedented in Jewish life."

-- Tim Rutten

The medical view:

Religion is not the main reason to reject this movement. Female genital mutilation is part of the cultural or faith traditions of some groups, yet it is rightly illegal because it is a form of child abuse. According to the World Health Organization, it bestows no health benefits and carries terrible long-term consequences, among them higher rates of maternal and newborn mortality, repeated pelvic and urinary tract infections, fistulas and difficulty urinating. Our society accords religious traditions strong legal protection, but it rarely allows the personal beliefs of parents to take precedence over serious health and safety concerns.

Male circumcision is different, and the experts say the decision should be left with parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for instance, notes that "scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision" but that the evidence is not robust enough at this point for a recommendation for routine circumcision. Those potential benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic, include lower risk of urinary tract infection and penile cancer, reduced rates of cervical cancer in the female partners of circumcised men, and possibly lower risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. But families who choose circumcision don't need to prove any health benefits because, in the absence of any evidence that they are harming their sons, they have the right to make medical decisions for them.

--Editorial Board

What are your arguments for or against the anti-circumcision proposition?

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In San Francisco, Benjamin Abecassis rests on a pillow following his bris, a Jewish circumcision ceremony. Credit: Noah Berger / Associated Press 

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