Saturday, 8 October 2011

Male circumcision

Ed Brayton brings up male circumcision. - reporting that California has banned banning circumcision! I am somewhat surprised that this is an active discussion in skeptical circles. Or should I say, an active discussion in American skeptical circles.

After all, there are no actual good reasons to do it, and some good reasons not to do it. So why is it even a serious question?

The Pros

Medical benefits
The medical benefits are minute, or non-existent. Furthermore, the benefits can still be obtained by not circumcising unless specifically medically advantageous. The scatter-gun approach of circumcising before any problems arise seems a little unjustifiable to me.

To make son's penis look the same as Daddy's
This argument would mean we should pierce or tattoo infants penises if the father has had that procedure done. Not only is the argument generally creepy, but it is fallacious.

Women find it more attractive
I don't think this is true. And even if it was true - it will only become relevant when the boy is a teenager.

The Cons

Because it is a non-consensual permanent body modification
And that's really all that matters, surely? The fact that it is of the penis strengthens this argument. The only argument against this is that doing it when the person is very young, means they don't remember the pain and bloodshed. But that argument can be applied to tattoos, piercings or even outright sexual abuse.

I get a very strong sense that people are uncomfortable accepting that a non-consensual body modification on a child's sexual organ is problematic because it paints their family, their friends in a negative fashion. If I suggest that in any other context, divorced from the cultural association, it would be considered sexual assault to cut pieces off a child's penis - it makes people very uncomfortable.

But sexual assault can be done in ignorance and even in love. It isn't that the people that do it are BAD BAD people, but we should really look at the procedure from an objective point of view. Given what the procedure is, the reason for doing it has got to be damned good. And the arguments really aren't even slightly good.

I have no problem with people that choose to circumcise their child, but maybe I should. Nevertheless, since it is an operation that can be deferred until the person reaches an age when they can give their informed consent. I'd wager that most people given that opportunity would turn down circumcision, so what right do we have denying this choice to people just because we have the power to do so?

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