Circumcision of boys unnecessary and risky

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

The circumcision of boys is reportedly almost always unnecessary and medically risky. The Royal Dutch Medical Society (KNMG) has published recommendations advising doctors to discourage parents from having their sons circumcised. Jewish and Islamic organisations have reacted angrily.

The KNMG would really like to ban the circumcision of boys altogether, but the organisation feels a legal ban would only lead to circumcision going underground, increasing the risks.

Dialogue
More than 46,000 Dutch doctors and trainee doctors are members of the society. They call circumcision for non-medical reasons “an infringement of a child’s right to autonomy and the right to bodily integrity”. And they say there are unnecessary risks.

However, the doctors are willing to take the cultural and religious sensitivities of parents into account. Which is why doctors, parents and religious groups plan to engage in a dialogue. And yet, Rasit Bal, chairman of the interest group Muslims and Government, was unpleasantly surprised by the advice of the medical community:

“I have noticed that it is becoming increasingly difficult to publicly display one’s religious identity. Things like this make it difficult. This is one of those issues that make life difficult for people who practice a religion”

Medical benefits
About 10,00 to 15,000 circumcisions are performed each year, most of them on Jewish and Muslim boys. Rabbi Raphael Evers says this figure includes about 80 Jewish boys. He argues peer pressure does not play a role in the decision to have one’s son circumcised. The rabbi says it’s the wish of the parents. He brushes aside any medical risks and even claims the surgery brings health benefits.

“Agitation against circumcision as a perceived threat against public health has been going on for quite some time, and it’s just nonsense. I have personally made extensive inquiries into both the physical and psychological problems of circumcision but never heard about any.”

Genital mutilation

The growing number of circumcisions among boys has not led to any kind of serious discussion in the Netherlands, in marked contrast with the circumcision of the daughters of African immigrants. The excision of girls’ labia minora and/or clitoris is almost universally condemned as genital mutilation.

So now the doctors have set their sights on the circumcision of boys. Medical ethicist Gert van Dijck says doctors will invoke children’s rights to emphatically discourage parents from requesting the procedure.

“We are asking doctors to actively and urgently warn parents that there are no medical advantages to circumcision and that there is a risk of complications. This way, we are hoping to achieve a culture change via the parents, so that they will eventually stop doing it.”