This “flexible and compassionate” is misdirected.

This article appeared in the Boston Globe last week. It’s a discussion of efforts to train new mohels in Massachusetts. Two particular passages are relevant to my focus. First:

Be flexible and compassionate, [Dr. Bob] Levenson told the doctors. … Gently tell the truth when a tearful, post-partum mother asks if babies can feel pain. (The answer is “yes, but I’ll be as quick as possible”). And it is perfectly OK – recommended, even – to anesthetize the infant with a little kosher wine dabbed on the lips.

Beyond wanting to see evidence that wine dabbed on the lips of an infant male will anesthetize him from the pain of surgery, this issue raises a large ethical red flag. There must be an objective reason to inflict pain on another, particularly a child who can’t offer (his) consent. And does the infant male’s soon-to-be-removed foreskin serve a purpose? The answer is “yes,” no parenthesis necessary or appropriate.


But for doctors, the work is not considered particularly lucrative. Mohels must secure their own malpractice insurance, spend significant time counseling families, travel, perform the ceremony on the eighth day of a child’s [sic – male] life, all for a fee of $350 or $400.

If a religious observation requires medical malpractice insurance, it is only legitimate to perform on consenting adults. The individual right of minors to be free from (medically unnecessary) harm must remain the exclusive standard, superior to any religious requirements, because risk is objectively inherent. The evaluation of that medically unnecessary risk against unverifiable religious benefits is subjective. The conclusion is only legitimate from the individual giving up his foreskin.