Butchery of the Innocents

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our Mission Statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

22 February 2018

A bill has been tabled in the Icelandic Parliament that would ban circumcision for non-medical reasons, according to a report on the BBC on 20 February 2018. If enacted, the bill would make Iceland the first European country to ban the practice.

The move has provoked a strong reaction from religious groups. Jewish and Muslim leaders have condemned the bill as an attack on religious freedom.

Claiming that the practice violates the rights of the child, the bill would impose a six-year prison term for cutting off a baby boy’s prepuce without medical justification.

Tabling the bill earlier this month, MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party, said: “Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe”.

The bill – which has yet to have its first reading in the Icelandic parliament and then be considered by a parliamentary committee – maintains that circumcision “involves permanent intervention in a child’s body that can cause severe pain”.

If adopted by parliament, the legislation would complement a law passed in 2005 banning female genital mutilation.

However, the Nordic Jewish Communities condemned the ban on “the most central rite” in their faith. Jewish campaign group Milah UK said that comparison with female genital mutilation was unwarranted, claiming that male circumcision involved “no recognized long-term negative impact on the child”.

According to the BBC, The Bishop of Reykjavik, Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir said: “The danger that arises, if this bill becomes law, is that Judaism and Islam will become criminalized religions. We must avoid all such forms of extremism.”

However, Michelle Roberts, a BBC health editor, says that circumcision is not entirely risk-free, the main risks being bleeding and infection. However, doctors may recommend circumcision if the boy has phimosis (an unusually tight foreskin) or suffers from balanitis (inflammation of the glans – the top part – of the penis).

While Iceland would be the first European country to ban non-medical circumcision, the practice is becoming more controversial and has been contested in court in Germany and the UK. In 2013 the Council of Europe recommended that countries take steps to ensure that good medical and sanitary practices are followed when circumcision is performed.


We last addressed this subject on 6 October 2012 in our post circumcision .

As we said then, ”Circumcision is a barbaric ritual involving the forcible mutilation of the natural body of a defenceless baby that is not of an age to give its assent to the aggression. The assent of the parents is irrelevant. It is the rights of the child that are at stake. The excision of a normal foreskin has no medical justification. Circumcision purely as a religious rite is, therefore, in our view, unconditionally wrong.”

And, regardless of the long-term effect, what about the pain suffered by the baby as part of its body is cut off? Is that OK?

In its report, the BBC refers to circumcision as “surgery”.

This is highly misleading. Surgery is a term that refers to corporal incision (cuts made in skin or flesh) for medical purposes.

That is why the Council of Europe is wrong, in our view, to recommend that countries take steps to ensure that good medical and sanitary practices are followed when circumcision is performed. Circumcision for non-medical purposes is a non-medical procedure. It is illogical to recommend “good medical and sanitary practices” for a procedure that is non-medical. The Council of Europe, to which the European Court of Human Rights, the Continent’s supreme human rights tribunal,  is attached, should be calling for a blanket ban on this barbarous practice.

Doctors who carry out circumcisions should also examine their consciences. Since the time of Hippocrates of Kos, the Greek physician traditionally regarded as the  father of Western medicine, who died around 380 BC,  medical practitioners have been assumed to be bound by the Hippocratic Oath, which commits them to use their skills solely for the purpose of improving a patient’s health.

Let us call a spade a spade. Incision for non-medical purposes is not surgery but butchery. In the case of children, it is the butchery of the innocents.

However, this is one of the few occasions on which we are able to make a positive suggestion that might be able, in this area, to reconcile the conflicting demands of religion and medicine.

Long-standing cultural practices are usually of mega importance to those who practise them. The upset that the prohibition of circumcision would cause to many Jews and Muslims should not be downplayed.

Our suggestion, therefore, is that the actual act of circumcision be replaced by a ritual symbolic procedure conserving the spiritual objectives for which circumcision is currently prescribed.

There are precedents. For example – unless this practice has been discontinued unbeknownst to us –  when Roman Catholics take communion, they do not actually eat the blood and flesh of Christ. Instead, they eat a white wheaten wafer (simbolising the body of Christ) and drink a potion of wine (symbolising the blood of Christ).


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

  1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
  2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
  3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
  4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
  5. Ladder  (21 June 2012)
  6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
  7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
  8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.




This entry was posted in COUNTRIES/INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS, Europe, Finland, Health, Iceland, Israel, Justice, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, UK, USA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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