CONTACT: J. Steven Svoboda 510-595-5550
CIRCUMCISION: DOCTORS LIABLE FOR CRIMINAL ASSAULT
Berkeley, CA – Doctors who circumcise infants, even with parental permission, are potentially liable for criminal assault. That is the conclusion of an article recently published in a major legal journal by an international team of lawyers.
No medical indications justify routine neonatal circumcision, according to the authors, and therefore it must now be considered an assault causing grievous bodily harm and a form of genital mutilation.
The article, “Circumcision of Healthy Boys – Criminal Assault?” appears in the February 2000 issue of the Journal of Law and Medicine, published in Australia. It was written by Gregory Boyle, Ph.D., an Australian professor of psychology; J. Steven Svoboda, a Harvard-educated American attorney and Executive Director of Attorneys for the Rights of the Child (ARC); Christopher P. Price, an Oxford-educated British solicitor; and former Professor J. Neville Turner, an Australian solicitor and Executive Director of Children Australia, Inc.
Although fewer than one in five Australian baby boys is circumcised today, down from more than nine in ten a generation ago, the article has created interest and controversy in Australia by challenging the medical profession to abandon the practice altogether. Since more than three out of five infant boys are still circumcised routinely in the US – nearly all in some areas – the controversy is likely to be even greater here.
ARC Executive Director J. Steven Svoboda congratulated the Journal of Law and Medicine for publishing the article and for daring to question perceived wisdom about the procedure. He pointed out that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conceded in its policy statement in March 1999 the absence of any medical reason sufficient to support “routine” infant circumcision, thereby reaffirming its first findings in 1971.
“Since the AAP confirmed that circumcision is effectively not a medical issue, it is clear that compelling legal and human rights concerns now demand that it be eradicated,” Svoboda said. “This article helps set forth some of the reasons why circumcision must stop.”
The articles emphasizes 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.
“Infant circumcision seriously breaches the child’s rights and is utterly incompatible with the doctor’s legal and ethical duties toward the child patient,” Svoboda said “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.”
A $10 million lawsuit by an Ohio boy who lost the tip of his penis in a circumcision was settled last year. Cases are underway where parental consent was considered inadequately informed, but the article opens the way for legal challenges to “successful” circumcisions even where “informed consent” was given by parents.
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