Strange Yet Familiar Bedfellows—Effectively Addressing Chronic Issues Encountered when Law and Human Rights Seek to Protect Bodily Integrity

By J. Steven Svoboda

Abstract as Presented at the Twelfth NOCIRC Symposium, Helsinki, Finland, October 2, 2012.

The recent German court case regarding circumcision upheld a child’s human and legal rights to bodily integrity. The ensuing arguments claiming that the decision violated religious rights evidence a misplaced understanding of the proper scope of options available based on a parent’s religion with respect to procedures that may infringe on a child’s rights. Chronic issues are evident in the frequent slippage in the public debate between religious and secular, between male genital cutting and female genital cutting, between ancient history and current medical knowledge and norms, and in the dialectic between an appropriately foregrounded child and other frequently foregrounded entities such as parents and society. These chronic issues—at this point strange yet familiar bedfellows that intactivists must effectively address—played a role in several recent events: protections of circumcision instituted in the wake of the German court case through a German parliamentary resolution and a letter from the Austrian Justice Ministry; the legal case that puzzlingly pre-empted the San Francisco ballot initiative without a vote taking place; and the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to reverse the Colorado Medicaid victory.