Where does the comparison fail?


Police say 26-year-old Enrique Gonzalez held the boy while another gang member tattooed his right hip. …

Gonzalez has been booked into the Fresno County Jail on suspicion of child abuse, mayhem, false imprisonment and a host of crimes with gang enhancements.

The (alleged) actions of the father are wrong, a conclusion virtually everyone will agree upon. Society is correct in prosecuting this as child abuse.

Yet, society’s laws also allege that parents have an unquestionable right to circumcise their (male) children – a permanent change to the child’s body – based only on a parental conclusion that some social benefit might exist for the child. We are not to judge those family decisions (on boys only, remember) made for subjective reasons.

Joel Stein satirized this mentality in a recent issue of Time when he wrote that “circumcision is something the U.S. does and Europe doesn’t and is therefore awesome.” Stein used this as a tongue-in-cheek way to introduce his skepticism on the issue. It wasn’t funny because he recognized the violation of circumcision and still forced it on his son, but the attempt at humor was obvious. Someone like Dr. Edgar Schoen uses this same faux-patriotism in his books as an excuse to continue parental choice on infant male circumcision for social reasons without noticing the absurdity of this forced inclusion. The law sides with Schoen’s stupidity on infant male¹ circumcision, which raises the question: How is tattooing a child any different than forcing unnecessary surgery on him?

The law permits parents to have no reason, but “like father, like son” is among the non-medical excuses most commonly provided. The medical community pushes this and few question it. Presumably the child in the news story above would’ve experienced greater acceptance and status among his father’s peer group² by having the tattoo. Why is one ethical framework applicable in one scenario and inapplicable in an analogous scenario, if not to cherry-pick for outcome? Because one violation is uncommon and the other is practiced more than one million times each year? Because one leaves a mark accepted by most while the other leaves a mark shunned by most? I’m curious to know because the answer isn’t logical.

None of these possible exemptions satisfies the primary ethical flaw in either violation. The act is forced upon the child without his consent. Necessity requires an acceptance of limited proxy parental consent for infant male circumcision that does not exist for tattooing because the probability of a medical need for circumcision is not equal to zero. But when the surgery is unnecessary to the child’s health, circumcision is the same violation, a permanent change to the child’s body without his consent. The disparity in protecting the rights of children is obvious and inexcusable.

¹ The law explicitly forbids this nonsense for female genital cutting, which is informative and worth exploring until the law changes. But it is beyond the scope necessary for this blog entry.

² It’s also possible to make a reasonable comparison here to the locker room theory used to justify circumcising male children.

2 thoughts on “Where does the comparison fail?”

  1. What’s interesting as well is many parents who are otherwise pro circ do not think it is ethical to circumcise an older boy against his will (I’m referring to the Misha case.)
    If it’s accepted that parents have the right to circumcise an infant if they see it as in their best interests, what is the difference, ethically, between doing it on a non consenting 13 year old, and doing it on a baby?

  2. That’s an excellent comparison. I’ve made that point in the past because it’s a logical walk from whatever someone thinks is unacceptable (age n) to what they find acceptable (infancy). There is no obvious break to distinguish it, so the conversation usually ends with avoidance.

Comments are closed.