Danish Doctors’ Group Wants to End Circumcision for Boys

December 8, 2016

A major doctors association in Denmark has recommended ending circumcisions for boys, saying the procedure should be “an informed personal choice” that young men make for themselves when they reach adulthood.

But the Danish Medical Association stopped short of calling for a legal ban, saying it would be difficult to predict the consequences.

“This area is ethically, culturally and religiously complex, and we worry whether a legal ban might result in unauthorized circumcisions,” said Lisa Moller, the president of the association’s ethics committee, which released the new policy statement last week. “Therefore, we have decided not to take a position on whether male circumcision should be banned by law.”

The largely symbolic recommendation, which Ms. Moller said was “intended as a statement of medical ethics,” says that because circumcision alters a child’s body permanently and involves “pain and discomfort,” it is ethically unacceptable to perform one unless the person can provide informed consent.

Ms. Moller said in an email on Thursday that more than 300 of the association’s members had signed an open letter urging the group “to be more visibly critical towards the practice of ritual circumcision.”

In drafting the policy, she said, the committee consulted experts on ethics and law from the University of Copenhagen, as well as “a substantial white paper on ritual male circumcision authored by the Jewish community in Denmark.” A “bilateral meeting” with representatives of the Jewish community was scheduled, she said, but ultimately canceled. The Local, an English-language news site in Denmark, citing the Danish Health and Medicines Authority, in 2014 said that approximately 1,000 to 2,000 circumcisions are performed annually, mostly among the country’s Muslim and Jewish populations.

In Denmark, physicians perform circumcisions, although a “competent assistant,” may do so with a doctor present, Ms. Moller said.

In recent years, Danes in public surveys have opposed circumcisions as standard practice. One poll in 2014 found that nearly three-fourths of the population favored banning the practice.

According to a 2007 World Health Organization report, approximately 30 percent of men globally have been circumcised.The rates in the United States have fluctuated through the years as advice from medical associations has changed. Statistics from the past decade suggest a sharp decline.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012 said the benefits of circumcising boys outweighed the risks. That decision replaced an earlier, neutral position on the procedure, but it also stopped short of recommending circumcision routinely for all baby boys.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed with the academy, citing a decreased risk of some sexually transmitted infections.

Critics of the procedure, however, say that it is rarely medically necessary, that surgical complications can permanently harm boys, and that it can lead to decreased sensitivity.