Circumcision Legality

Five days ago I asked readers’ opinions about circumcision. Unfortunately, I was hoping to poll mainly regular readers, but my post got discovered by an anti-circ advocate forum and thus the poll’s data appears hugely skewed.  As of this writing, with n=171, the results are:

  • 54% want circs illegal !
  • 19% are against circumcision but want parental choice
  • 19% are undecided
  • 7% are pro-circ and want parental choice

The anti-circ advocates offer a valuable voice but with this post I want to question one aspect of that voice: Legality. So, let me offer two polls below to probe the legality issue. In this post I won’t discuss my opinion on this issue, but I invite my dear thoughtful readers to please offer comments addressing what you anticipate these polls are hinting at.

Clarifications (in response to comments):

  • by “circumcision“, I mean non-medical necessary infant circumcision.
  • by “food choice“, I mean food bought in grocery stores — not drugs, alcohol, poison …
  • by “spanking“, I mean to the degree that it is not doing significant physical damage


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

29 responses to “Circumcision Legality

  1. Casper

    I found I couldn’t vote on the first poll, none of the options being appropriate. I’m assuming by circumcision here it means non-medical circumcision of an infant not able to make an independent decision?

    I wrote a post on circumcision a couple of month’s ago, should you be interested:

  2. @ Casper,
    Polls are hard to write well. What was an obstacle to you?
    Yes, by circumcision I meant of an infant. Was that your obstacle?
    Thanx for the link — good post.

  3. I’m amazed that over half of the respondents in the previous poll thought that circumcision should be illegal.

    In the second, I voted “fc only.” I would not suggest something as silly a ban on children eating at McDonalds. I was instead looking at it from a wide definition of food, including alcohol, cannabis brownies, and other digestible things which can directly damage developmental health. Yet I would not want to have a parent arrested for offering a single sip of wine to a child. And one could certainly make an argument that a parent providing a child with a diet exclusively containing french fries and chicken nuggets isn’t exactly providing ideal conditions for developmental health either. It’s a pretty messy topic.

  4. @ The Wise Fool
    (1) arghhhh, of course I did not mean drugs or poisons or such. But that is the problem with posts — I overlooked over-reading as these first two comments illustrate. Anyway, I added caveates to the post. Thanx.

    (2) BTW, your posts continue to be excellent — one of them has just inspired me to probably spend about 3 hours or more on a few other posts which I am working on now.

  5. Thanks Sabio!

    I thought twice selecting about “fc,” as I was fairly certain you didn’t mean such poisons, but one of my selves egged me on to do so anyway!

    I guess this is just another case illustrating another facet of Twain’s quip: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 🙂

    I’ll be looking forward to your posts!

  6. @ TWF,
    So, can you guess where I am going with this post without me saying it?

  7. CRL

    More nitpicky questions: is the degree of spanking limited, or will parents be allowed to seriously injure their children? This seems like another place where it’s a bit tricky to draw the line.

  8. Ian

    Struggled to answer the 2nd poll too. Because there is always the issue of degree. It would be a particularly extreme libertarian who’d say that parents should be allowed to systematically and life-threateningly malnourish their children, for example. So I’d guess most people would be okay with government regulation. On the other hand, should I be fined when I take my kid out for pizza as a treat? Clearly not. Similarly we might want to intervene for the kids of a Jonestown-style pact, but probably don’t want inspectors monitoring prayers at bedtime. So I could answer all three, or just ‘s’. In all three I’d like some regulation, but I probably am closer to what you were thinking of ‘no regulation’ for ‘fc’ and ‘rt’.

  9. @ CRL:
    Yes, my reason for choosing “spanking” was to limit the idea to nonphysical injury. To limit it successfully, however would take a law book perhaps.

    @ Ian:
    Yes, it is a dilemma. Unfortunately, many don’t see it as a dilemma at all. For them, “my preferences” should be “your preferences”, because I value what is obviously the good.

    But this dilemma point to another issue (which I know you’ve thought about), but I will get there in a little bit — maybe after more comments or in another post.

  10. Ian

    “For them, “my preferences” should be “your preferences””

    I dunno – I suspect it is always a question of degree. I know quite a few lefties here (and your left is rather right wing as far as uk policies go), and I’m sure none of them would disagree that people should have personal freedom. Just a disagreement about where your freedoms should end and someone else’s begin. And unless you’re an anarchist, I think thats probably how you think about the world too. Though obviously you think others want to put the dividing line at the ‘wrong’ point, for some definition of wrong.

  11. @ Ian,
    Hmmmm, I can’t tell if you feel you understand my position this issue. Sounds like you have some image of me that we are talking around.

    I agree it is a matter of degree. Depending on the issue, people change their song on the issue of individual (social) freedom.

    But, as long as we stay abstract in this conversation, we’ll probably continue talking past each other. Hands get dirty when people wrestle over the preference they want uniformly and universally enforced — and what ‘enforced’ means to them.

  12. Ian

    Oh yes, no doubt. Its just that I don’t think anyone (or manyone) thinks of it as imposing their personal preference. It seems describing it that way is tendentious. I may feel that folks who want to ban elective infant circ are pushing their personal preference on others. But I’m not sure its not equally true that I’m pushing my personal preference that spouses should have the right to refuse marital sex on others when I argue for criminal sanctions against maritalo rape. Is dislike of rape any less of a personal preference than dislike of circ? If it is (and it may be) – on what nonsubjective basis?

    It is tempting for each of us to think that where we draw the line is clearly issues of morality, and those who go further are doing it on the basis of imposing their personal preferences. But how can we tell where one ends and the other begins, other than using our own personal preferences as the arbiter?

    I suspected you’re pivoting your disagreement with the 73% of anti-circ votes on an argument from inconsistency. I was assuming you were, so am trying to point out that such inconsistency is rather universal.

  13. (1) You said,

    Its just that I don’t think anyone (or manyone [‘many’? or that a welsh word?]) thinks of it as imposing their personal preference.

    I agree ! Thus I think it is good moral therapy to help people realize that when they legislate their desires, they are forcing others (under threat) to do what you want them to do. I actually have seen time and time again that many people are oblivious to what they are actually doing.

    (2) “tendentious”: marked by a tendency in favor of a particular point of view; biased; implicitly or explicitly slanted.
    That is a fantastic word! Shyly, it is one I don’t use and wasn’t really sure on the meaning. Thanx.
    I agree that I am being tendentious, but only that I am tending to #1. I think the distinction is important and hopefully #3, #4 and #5 (coming) will help show why. [though I still could be highly mistaken]

    (3) You said,

    But I’m not sure its not equally true that I’m pushing my personal preference that spouses should have the right to refuse marital sex on others when I argue for criminal sanctions against marital rape.

    I think you would be forcing your preference there. But as you say, it is a subjective bias — though some people try to show how that we can rationally determine many moral positions, I (probably like you) remain highly skeptical.

    (4) I have not tried to force a clear line of these issues — your caution is well warranted — I agree.

    (5) It is interesting that you think I am going after the anti-circ folks. That will have to wait for one of the coming posts.

    Thanks, as always, for you decisive criticisms — they are always instructive.

  14. Earnest

    I also failed to vote on first poll. I am reconsidering my current vote of none, as there are degrees. Although maybe it’s appropriate to simply regulate the plus/minus bodily harm caused by such. Psych harm is trickier to quantify and judge.

    I think the cases of rabbis giving herpes to infants via a weird Jewish ritual is gross but probably not grounds for making even this ritual illegal. Consenting guardians and, in the absence of disease transmission, on its face without documentable harm.

  15. Earnest

    Ritual mentioned previously is oral-genital contact.

    Our boys, 10 & 11, were recently circumsized. According to a person I know they are happy they are now more like their friends in appearance, but when I asked them myself it seemed like they just wanted to avoid the topic. So who knows what the truth of the matter is.

  16. Ian

    Cool, this post ha made me think more than I have for a while…

    I voted to outlaw infant circumcision, btw, and your original post didn’t change that. But in defending that against the counter arguments I chose to project onto you, I hd to work hard to find a good post-hoc rationalisation for my position😉

    manyone = I typed that first, by accident, but then thought it’s quite a good neologism. I often say things like ‘anyone can see’ and then have to defend against pedants ‘not eeeeevryone …’. You’re not a pedant, but I might use that word again…

  17. @ Earnest,
    Wow, we haven’t spoken for a while, so I had not heard about this decision with your boys. Sounds like a big deal. And in typical fashion, you share it openly and vulnerably. Thank you. I remember several years ago sort of discussing the option out of circumcision. Was that in part due to your father’s input or your wife’s or something else? I forgot your reasoning at the time. Thanx ahead of time for sharing.

    @ Ian,
    I am glad it has been a useful exercise. Post-hoc rationalizations are funny things, aren’t they. I have grown very leery of trust myself in that way over the years. 🙂

    Well, I actually looked up “manyone” — cause I figured, “Hell, if Ian used it, it is probably a word actually used somewhere on this planet.” And I certainly now feel it should become a new word — it is perfect!

    You are right, I am far from being a pedant, but I am often confused for one. Funny, that!

  18. Note: as of now:
    38% want circumcision to be illegal
    62% want abortion and circumcision to be voluntary

    But I wonder if the anti-circ crowd is actually following the blog — they may come running in on Monday, so I wanted to show the stats.
    Note, it should not be surprising that there are no illegalize abortion and illegalize circ folk because most anti-abortion folks are religious and most of those same religious folks are pro-circ — it is a covenant, after all!

    Readers who are following may want to know that I am intentionally using the expressions “anti-circ crowd” and such. More on that later.

  19. CRL

    For polling purposes: one of the two all responses was a result of me misreading the question.

  20. “…there are no illegalize abortion and illegalize circ folk…” Not so. There is a group “Catholics Opposing Circumcision” that is predominantly “pro-life”. Abortion and circumcision are two different issues, with different beings involved. Nobody is FOR abortion, some of us just disagree about when, in the course of the extraordinary journey that is a pregnancy, it should no longer be permissible.

    But whenever they may begin, human rights do not END at birth.

    “… because most anti-abortion folks are religious and most of those same religious folks are pro-circ — it is a covenant, after all!…” It is a covenant only for (the more orthodox of) Jews. (Less orthodox see it as a binding to the community.) St Paul goes on at length about why circumcision has no value to Christians (he was trying to convert Greeks, who weren’t having a bar of circumcision), and the Catholic church has long been opposed to circumcision, whether as a ritual or as a tampering with God’s creation. Where circumcision is customary, they’ve forgotten that.

    To forshadow your next discussion, there is no “anti-circ crowd”. Intactivists have no objection to adults modifying their OWN bodies, by circumcision or any other way that amuses them. The issue is doing it to babies and children before they can resist.

  21. @ CRL : Thanks

    @Hugh7 :

    (1) I stand corrected — “Catholics Opposing Circumcision”, you are right. There are probably also “Catholics who want the Pope Out” too. You are right. I see your vote.

    (2) In your second point are being merely argumentative when you corrected my “anti-circ crowd” phrase. To be consistent, you should also correct your “Catholics Opposing Circumcision” group’s title. Of course we get that. Being argumentative like that weakens your voice. I am not going to write: “anti-non-medically-necessary-infant-toddler-or-child-circumcision” — I guess I could call it “ANMNITOCC”.

  22. What do I think the polls are hinting at? It seems to me you’re pointing out cognitive dissonance by lining up corrective spanking (not punishment or physically harmful) and food choice against circumcision and abortion. Makes sense to me.

  23. @ Paul,
    Well, if I understand you correctly, I am pointing at the line where we call for government intervention vs personal intervention which are very different strategies that people often unwittedly confuse.

  24. Yes, I see that, Sabio. If it’s desirable for the government to control this, why is it undesirable for the government to control that. If I’m in favor if this practice, but against that practice—which are similar—why is that?

  25. There is a fundamental difference between Catholics Opposing Circumcision and *”Catholics Who Want the Pope Out”. Circumcision is not a policy of the Catholic Church (as Keeping the Pope In is), in fact as I said, it long had a policy against circumcision, see Wanting the Pope Out would risk being kicked out of the church (excommunicated).

    There is a word for people opposed to non-therapeutic genital cutting (of any sex, male female or intersexed) and it is “Intactivists”.

    The thing about “government intervention” is that it is actually a negative intervention, to protect a helpless group of people from a major intervention. We already accept this without much question for infant tattooing, infant genital piercing and ALL non-therapeutic female genital cutting, no matter how minor, even for religion. What distinguishes male genital cutting from those?

  26. @ Hugh7,

    (1) Thanx for the link. The religious side of the argument is fascinating.

    (2) I am aware of the term — more on that later.

  27. MrBBQ

    Why the &*#! would you circumcise your boys? And at that age, too? God help you if they ever research on the internet and find out what you did to them!
    Why do you suppose they didn’t want to talk about it? They probably would have been happy to do without it, and view it as an unnecessary trial you put them through (though they don’t necessarily believe they’ve lost anything or were seriously harmed).

  28. @ MrBBQ,
    I am going to have to ask you to be a little less personal in your attacks. I happen to know that Earnest can take it, but I will censor further attacks styles.

  29. Earnest

    Thanks Sabio, missed Mrbbq’s comment until now.

    Subtracting out the personal attacks, mrbbq, you seem to be in an extreme intactivist stance. I am in the medical field, I have actually performed a circumcision or two. They are bloody painful and potentially mutilating procedures. My wife has been a circumcision fan for a while, because she wants them to not get teased in the shower after sports. I concede that this may be a bit shallow, but same-ness is a survival instrument in middle school. There is also new data about HIV transmission woman to man which seems to be enhanced in the absence of circumcision. The urologist we talked to made it clear that the more sexually mature the boys were the worse outcome we could expect. That was counter to my understanding that surgery is easier if organs are bigger, but I suppose the vascular erectile tissue is part of the answer.

    So, with a heavy heart I consented. Both procedures went very well and both boys, it seems, at this point couldn’t care less that we did it to them. They even seem to be grateful that we no longer harrass them about distal penis self-care.

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