Oxford University’s Practical Ethics Blog has issued an announcement (http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2013/03/announcement-journal-of-medical-ethics-special-issue-on-circumcision/) by the Journal of Medical Ethics (JME) providing further information on the contents of the upcoming special issue on male circumcision.

The announcement states that the JME Special Issue titled, “The Ethics of Male Circumcision” will include (in addition to the article by me and Robert Van Howe criticizing the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement and technical report that was published earlier today) the following:

  • A defense of circumcision by political theorist Joseph Mazor based on the child’s best interests. (!)
  • A suggestion by Dena Davis that it may be time to re-open the conversation on the most mild forms of female genital cutting. (!)
  • An article by political scientist Matthew Johnson arguing that religious circumcision should be permitted in secular, multi-cultural societies but that individuals should be able to seek damages against the community for any harm they thereby suffered.
  • Medical historian Robert Darby assesses the narrow question of whether the principle of the child’s right to an open future applies to non-therapeutic, infant male circumcision. By drawing analogies with the case of “designer deafness” (in which deaf parents deliberately seek to have children with diminished sensory capacity), Darby argues that circumcision is indeed in violation of this principle, and hence is objectionable from an ethical and human rights perspective.
  • An article by Israeli philosopher Hanoch Ben Yami arguing that religious circumcision is a barbaric custom but that an outright ban would be harmful, so proposing instead a series of gradual reforms.
  • Pediatrician Robert Van Howe considers the normative basis of the doctrine of parental rights—sometimes used to justify circumcisions in both the secular and religious case—and argues that parental rights are a “dead dogma” that have outlived their usefulness for conceptualizing the relationship between parents and their children. Instead of rights, Van Howe suggests that parents have an obligation to preserve and protect their children’s rights, including those of bodily integrity and the preservation of an open future.
  • Human rights lawyer J. Steven Svoboda goes a step further and argues that circumcision is a clear-cut human rights violation, whether it is performed on boys or girls, and whether for religious or secular reasons. Surveying the basis of human rights law in Western societies, Svoboda shows that circumcision may be considered inconsistent with the most widely accepted interpretations of key human rights documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • An analysis by German law professors Reinhold Merkel and Holm Putzke of the new German law protecting the right to circumcise and the Cologne court decision that preceded it.

The announcement says that the issue also includes editorials by Julian Savulescu and by Brian Earp. Earp presented an outstanding talk at the October 2012 Helsinki symposium that was featured in the last ARC Newsletter. The announcement also says that additional commentaries have been invited from (pro-circumcision) philosopher David Benatar and from philosopher David P. Lang.

Steven Svoboda
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child