Your honor: peas or carrots tonight?

Via Amy Alkon, a story with some relevance to my stance that medically unnecessary male circumcision of all minors should be prohibited (and enforced, where necessary) by the state. From Canada:

A Canadian court has lifted a 12-year-old girl’s grounding, overturning her father’s punishment for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet, his lawyer said Wednesday.

The girl had taken her father to Quebec Superior Court after he refused to allow her to go on a school trip for chatting on websites he tried to block, and then posting “inappropriate” pictures of herself online using a friend’s computer.

In the case of cultural circumcision, which includes medicalized circumcision that seeks potential health benefits, the obvious first standard for what to prohibit is objective harm. Circumcision is surgery, so it always involves objective harm to the body. When there is no medical need for the surgery, forcing it on another person is an assault, regardless of the intent. Preventing this type of harm to one by another is a legitimate function of any state. Prohibition of medically unnecessary circumcision forced on minors is valid. QED.

Discussing the male circumcision issue within the libertarian community is an interesting process. Strangely, many libertarian males seem displeased, however mildly, about their parents circumcising them. Yet, in an odd consideration of limited government and individual liberty, they also seem reluctant, often vehemently, to consider state involvement. This is more a misdirected focus on minimizing the state as the ends than on maximizing liberty with the best, possibly necessary means. (More on this to come in a detailed post I’m working on.)

But there is a limit to legitimate state intervention. Always, the first response I get in the libertarian discussion is that parents make all kinds of decisions for their children that the child may not like, should we legislate those? I think that logical leap is lacking in logic, but it’s not (generally) offered with malice, so it’s worth considering. I usually discuss some combination of objective harm and the permanence of choices. Unless one is being intentionally ridiculous, it’s worthless to advocate an exact comparison between requiring your child to take piano lessons and requiring him to undergo unnecessary surgery that removes portions of his healthy, functioning anatomy. “Requiring” is a key word in considering intervention, but “unnecessary” is the much more important word as it ties directly to objective harm. Surgery causes objective harm in a manner that piano lessons do not. The difference, to some degree, is parenting. I do not favor state intervention in normal parenting, nor have I written anything that could be construed as favoring limitless intervention. I offer specific guidelines for legitimate state intervention.

Which brings us to this case from Canada. I guess it’s possible that there’s more to the case than the reports I’ve read. It seems hard to believe that, so I will assume there is nothing more. So, this judge made an egregious error. The state’s intervention is illegitimate.

It’s not controversial to accept that, which gets us back to the more fundamental issue. What is the legitimate boundary for state intervention? It’s somewhere short of this case, we all probably agree. It’s at least as far as prohibiting the assault of children, however well-intentioned. We don’t all agree, or I wouldn’t be writing this. But I’ve made an argument in favor of my stance that outlines criteria for deciding how to limit or condone state involvement in parenting decisions. This case shows that my effort is an attempt at an objective standard that aims to protect the rights of all individuals, regardless of their power within society based upon having not reached the objectively arbitrary age of majority.