In an article in the New York Times on female genital cutting in Indonesia, here’s the obligatory mention. I’m only surprised that it appears so late in the story.
Any distinction between injuring the clitoris or the clitoral hood is irrelevant, says Laura Guarenti, an obstetrician and WHO’s medical officer for child and maternal health in Jakarta. “The fact is there is absolutely no medical value in circumcising girls,” she says. “It is 100 percent the wrong thing to be doing.” The circumcision of boys, she adds, has demonstrated health benefits, namely reduced risk of infection and some protection against H.I.V.
How much of “absolutely no medical value” is the result of scientific research finding no link between female genital cutting and potential health benefits? How much is the result of our realization that it would be cruel to investigate it, even on willing adult volunteers, with the forward-thinking realization that it would be cruel to impose on children, regardless of anything potential?
For many people, the history of male genital cutting precludes any reconsideration of the ethics and validity of imposing an extreme intervention on a healthy child (i.e. a human being). The surgery is wrapped up in tradition and “medical” justifications that society uses to pretend that an objective clinical finding is not merely a subjective wish when applied beyond the laboratory. That blindness is especially silly when looking at the disparity between volunteers in a study and infants with healthy genitals. Unfortunately, within that disparity rests the real issue of the individual and his/her inherent, identifiable rights. Those human rights are not predicated upon the claimed grandiosity of an action’s outcome. Nor are they predicated upon the gender of the person subjected to such irrational hope.
Healthy genitals, by definition, do not require intervention. As such, any intervention is excessive, unjustified, and thus, irrational. Healthy (i.e. medical need, or lack thereof) is the only reasonable standard needed to evaluate medical procedures when applied to a person who cannot exercise his own consent. Mounds of historical research are as irrelevant as any distinction based on gender.
As an informative aside, peruse the accompanying slideshow of an Indonesian circumcision ceremony (particularly this one). Try to justify how changing the gender of the participants – willing or otherwise – matters. Essentially, any time you see pink in a picture, change it to blue. Doing so demonstrates how arguing a difference based on subjective criteria imposed on non-consenting “participants” is a stupid mental exercise. Or, rather, I should say it’s a mental exercise by the stupid.