CIRCUMCISION: DOCTORS ARE BETRAYING CHILDREN
Berkeley, CA: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been charged by a lawyers’ organization with continuing to betray children in its release today of a new policy regarding circumcision. According to Attorneys for the Rights of the Child (ARC), a Berkeley-based group working to protect all children from breaches of their fundamental human rights, millions of boys will as a result undergo medically unjustified and damaging surgery.
ARC Executive Director J. Steven Svoboda congratulated the AAP for its finding that no medical reason exists to support infant circumcision, saying, “Since the AAP has now confirmed that circumcision is not a medical issue, it is clear that compelling legal and human rights concerns demand that it be eradicated.” Svoboda noted that the rights to bodily integrity, to liberty and security of the person, and to freedom from discrimination because of sex, religion or race are guaranteed by a number of internationally recognized human rights documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Svoboda said, “Circumcision seriously breaches the child’s rights and is utterly incompatible with the doctor’s legal and ethical duties toward the child patient. A parent’s consent cannot justify removal of healthy tissue—whether it be a finger, a breast, a clitoris, or a foreskin—without a valid medical reason.”
According to Svoboda, the AAP will not succeed in its apparent attempt to protect itself and its members from criminal and civil liability for performing circumcisions by mentioning “potential medical benefits” of the procedure. Svoboda said, “The AAP itself acknowledges that routine newborn circumcision has no medical justification. Its assertion that cultural, religious and ethnic traditions should be taken into account is inconsistent with medical ethics as well as unjustified by domestic law and human rights principles.”
Svoboda commented, “We now understand that cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions do not justify circumcising a girl, which many countries throughout the world have made illegal, so how can such considerations justify taking a knife to a boy’s penis without his consent and cutting off highly specialized, functional, erogenous tissue? An average circumcision removes approximately half the penile skin sheath, termed by renowned anthropologist Ashley Montagu a highly significant loss.”
Svoboda noted that leading authorities on female genital mutilation, including Hanny Lightfoot-Klein and Nahid Toubia, have emphasized that it is never acceptable to remove functioning body parts from children without medical justification, and have stated that circumcisions of both boys and girls violate medical ethics, civil and criminal laws, and human rights principles. One of Canada’s leading medical ethicists, Dr. Margaret A. Somerville, has stated her opposition to the practice as a form of criminal assault.
The AAP cannot reconcile its current position with the advice of its own ethics committee, Svoboda added. Citing the AAP Bioethics Committee for its article, “Informed Consent, Parental Permission, and Assent in Pediatric Practice,” PEDIATRICS Vol. 95 No. 2 (February 1995), Svoboda said, “The AAP’s own Bioethics Committee has acknowledged that the child, not the parents, is the patient and, moreover, that the doctor has a legal and ethical duty to render medical care based on the needs of the patient, not the desires or proxy consent of the parents.” Svoboda added, “The AAP has committed a serious disservice to its members and to the American public by continuing to ignore its own ethical guidelines and by failing to help to bring an end to this painful, harmful and profoundly damaging practice.”
Svoboda concluded, “There could have been no better way for the AAP to move child care into the new millenium than by taking the clear stand against circumcision that human rights and medical ethics, as well as decency, fairness, and humanity, demand. While some aspects of the AAP’s statement have merit, its failure to condemn circumcision without consent of the circumcised will create legal and medical repercussions that will haunt it and the American public for decades to come.”
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