Age Discrimination: Patient and Doctor Edition

Here’s a story that taps my two main interests:

A MEMBER of the Bagisu Cultural Board has proposed that the retirement age for the circumcision surgeons (Bakhebi) be set at 60 years if their sight is still good.

He said this would minimise the accidents that occur during the operation. John Musila made the remarks at a consultative workshop on the promotion of safe male circumcision in the era of HIV/AIDS, held at Communications Centre hall in Mbale town on Saturday.

I’ll take the paragraphs in reverse order. As for reducing accidents during circumcision, clearly not performing circumcisions would be most effective. Again, I do not care what an adult chooses for himself (or herself). But that’s not what we’re ultimately discussing with this story. When introducing the HIV topic, we inevitably move from voluntary, adult circumcision to involuntary, child circumcision. Making the latter safer is better, but it is barely an ethical improvement.

Now I’ll assume only that we’re talking about voluntary, adult circumcision. In considering the libertarian implication of the age restriction, I’ll also assume the legitimacy of the state licensing the medical profession┬╣. Obviously it’s irrational to have a blind doctor. But what does age have to do with it? A 30-year-old doctor can go blind and a 75-year-old doctor can retain all of her capabilities. The test is competence, not arbitrary lines the may or may not lead us to a good result most of the time.

This is similar to suggesting that we must prohibit medically unnecessary circumcision, unless it’s imposed on children to meet their parents’ religion. There is no principle involved. In the scenario in the story, if the doctor is competent, no needless limits should be placed on him to prevent him from engaging in his profession. He must be free to trade his services to a willing customer.

┬╣ My default position on this low-priority issue is an endorsement of something close to our status quo.