Parents are not psychics.

Familydoc has a frustrating post discussing the medical facts surrounding circumcision. I don’t have any general opposition to the information, and was surprised that Familydoc acknowledged that the medical issue is “a tie”. That’s why I’m stuck to understand how that leaves the decision to parents to choose based on their “religious, cultural, esthetic, but not medical” reasons. Familydoc offers this as an explanation of parental “rights” to justify allowing them to choose non-medically necessary cosmetic surgery.

Since American law accepts that parents have a right to abort their unborn fetuses, as well as to decide where, what, when, and how their born children eat, sleep, get an education, it seems logical that the decision to circumcise or not rests with the parents – as long as circumcision is not intrinsically harmful.

I’m not an attorney, but I can see how that logic is flawed. A right to abortion is about control over one’s own body, unless I’m mistaken. Imposing circumcision on an infant is about control over another’s body. Quite different. And the decision about where, what, when, and how their born children eat, sleep, and get an education do not involve permanent physical changes to a child. If I didn’t get a good education, I have the option to get one later in life. If I was forced to eat food I didn’t like, I have the option to now be vegan. If I was forced to go to bed at 8:30, I now have the option to stay up to watch Stephen Colbert. I’ll add one. If I wasn’t allowed to play with certain kids who didn’t meet my parents approval, I can now hang out all night with those bad elements.

I do not have the option to replace my now-permanently-gone, healthy foreskin.

I left a long comment on Familydoc’s entry discussing the ethics and harm of infant circumcision, so I won’t address those (or the rest of the entry) in great detail here. However, it should be obvious that the harm of circumcision can be subjective, since Familydoc acknowledges that harm occurs. I’m just not dismissive of subjective criteria. Individuals have different, impossible-to-predict preferences. Even on the supposedly insignificant criteria of aesthetic value, the individual’s opinion is what matters.

In society we rightly grant parents the power to make medical decisions by proxy. They can and should work to the child’s (i.e. the patient) best interest. However, when journeying beyond the limited boundaries of immediate medical need, the criteria for allowing such decision-making power must get significantly tougher. As in baseball where the tie goes to the runner, in medicine, the tie must go to the patient, who we can and should assume would demand the least invasive stance necessary. Routine infant circumcision is the most invasive stance, a solution in search of a problem.

Ethics matter. Anything else treats children as their parents’ property.

Via Everyone Needs Therapy as a recommendation following on an earlier post¹.

¹ TherapyDoc’s earlier post, a commentary on an article about Jewish parents opting not to circumcise their sons, lacked a sufficient discussion of the ethics of infant circumcision. TherapyDoc relied on the argument that Jewish identity and culture would diminish, if not disappear, without infant circumcision. I disagree. More importantly, it’s irrelevant in a civil society where inherent individual rights are guaranteed.

2 thoughts on “Parents are not psychics.”

  1. “Esthetic” reasons?
    Since we’re not talking about a birth defect here, how can esthetics possibly justify surgical intervention?
    If a parent doesn’t like the way nature designed the human body and communicates this fact to others, wouldn’t it make more sense to refer them to a psychologist instead of allowing them to inflict their irrational notions on their kid?

  2. Yes, this is true, and I have to say that, given our recent debate over on RMR with Josh Amos, that this familydoc post seems capable of but one thing, as it so often happens in the controversial circdebate: a preservation and reassurance that maintaining the status quo is not only “OK”, but it remains unharmful (or not harmful enough to justify further analysis), therefore just fine.

    In the debate I above mentioned, it seemed, as Amos broke down a bit, that the whole “snow ball’s chance” argument came into play, like an overheated pomme frite in the mouth of a “realist.”

    When I found this article, I began to realize that reason would prevail despite abundant apologism and inferno-esque climates. The key, I think is a continuance of awareness-raising, plain and simple. Human rights activists should certainly continue the crusade.

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