Peter W, Adler


An important, divisive, and unanswered question of American law - and indeed of international law - is whether it is legal to circumcise healthy boys. American medical association and experts assert that circumcision is a common, safe, and relatively painlesss procedure with many medical benefits that exceed the risks. They argue that insurance should pay for it. Some religious organizations argue that circumcision is a sacred religious ritual. In any event, proponents claim that parents have a general and religious right to make the circumcision decision. They can point to the fact that no physician has ever been held liable by an American court for a properly performed circumcision. Legal scholars, foreign medical associations, intactivist organizations, and increasing numbers of men claim the opposite, namely that circumcision is painful, risky, harmful, irreversible surgery that benefits few men, if any. These opponents of circumcision argue that, in any event, boys have a right to be left genitally intact, like girls under federal law, and to make the circumcision decision for themselves as adults. These opponents of circumcision can point to a June 2012 decision by a court in Cologne, Germany, which held that nontherapeutic circumcision for religious reasons is criminal assault. The German court reasoned that circumcision causes grievous bodily harm, and that boys have a fundamental right to genital integrity that supersedes their parents' religious rights. Thus, a battle is unfolding in courts and legislatures as to the legality of circumcision. Amidst all of the divisiveness and hyperbole, we need to ask, what are the relevant facts, legal issues, and what is the applicable law?