A former Medford man who converted to Judaism wants his 12-year-old son to do the same. That requires circumcision — something the mother adamantly opposes.
The divorced couple has been battling over the issue for three years, including whether the boy wants to undergo the procedure. So far, Oregon courts have squarely sided with the father, who has custody.
The custodial parent has the right to raise his/her child in a chosen religion. Fair enough, and not something under direct debate here. But the obvious question exists: to what extent can parents force religion on their children? Regarding circumcision, the courts have long been blind to the obvious point that circumcision is medically unnecessary surgery that carries inherent risks. This is wrong, in this case, and in any case where a child is circumcised for religion¹.
This attorney states it well:
“You’re talking about not just religious instruction or whether you’re going to send the child to parochial school or public school,” commented Lawrence D. Gorin, a Portland attorney. “This is a matter of permanent change of bodily structure. And it’s irreversible.”
The analysis shouldn’t change just because the boy has lived for twelve years rather than twelve hours, but it does readily demonstrate the lack of respect for individual rights inherent to every human being. There should be a high hurdle to overcome when imposing surgery on another human being. The first and foremost should be medical need. Without need, no further analysis is necessary. Imposing surgery must be prevented. But our society overlooks that. Still, in the case of a twelve-year-old boy who does not wish to be circumcised, as this boy does not, the act is clearly a proposed physical assault on the child. No society can permit this and continue calling itself civilized.
“I am still of the opinion that the decision of whether or not a child has elective surgery, which this appears to be, is a call that should be made and is reserved to the custodial parent,” [Jackson County Circuit Judge Rebecca G.] Orf said in a hearing.
I wonder how Judge Orf would feel if this case was about
forced elective rhinoplasty? Elective breast augmentation? Elective labiaplasty? Elective clitoridectomy? Oh, wait, federal law already prohibits parents from forcing those last two on their children for any reason other than medical need, including religion, so strike them. Elective labiaplasty. Elective clitoridectomy. Yet, we somehow believe that it’s acceptable for parents to order a boy’s genitals cut for their own reasons. Society is grossly mistaken.
But Julie H. McFarlane, a supervising attorney with the Portland-based Juvenile Rights Project, said that the child’s consent for a medical procedure is not required until he turns 15.
“I think the dad has the legal right as the custodial parent to make those kind of religious or medical decisions,” McFarlane said. “It’s not much different from cosmetic surgery.”
The bottom line, McFarlane said, is that “when you lose custody, you lose a lot of those things that go with custody — deciding whether the kids go to school and the rest of the day-to-day parenting decisions.”
This is not “day-to-day” parenting, or even “parenting”. It’s genital mutilation without consent. This is wrong. A guardian ad litem should be appointed immediately to protect the boy. It’s his penis facing the knife, after all. It shouldn’t matter what the parents want, only what he needs. In the end, the Oregon Supreme Court should protect² the boy.
¹ It is wrong in all cases where it’s not medically indicated. I want to restrict the analysis here to religious justifications, although they’re as equally flimsy as any cultural excuse (i.e. “look like daddy”).
² Every court and legislature should do the same, of course. They’re cowards, so they won’t. Yet.